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  • Sarah Shi Hui Wong

Take Notes, Not Photos (Wong & Lim, 2023, JEP: Applied)


Wong, S. S. H., & Lim, S. W. H. (2023). Take notes, not photos: Mind-wandering mediates the impact of note-taking strategies on video-recorded lecture learning performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 29(1), 124–135.


Wong & Lim (2023) Take notes, not photos_Mind-wandering mediates the impact of note-taking
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In two experiments (N = 200), we compared the effects of longhand note-taking, photographing lecture materials with a smartphone camera, and not taking any notes on video-recorded lecture learning. Experiment 1 revealed a longhand-superiority effect: Longhand note-takers outperformed photo-takers and control learners on a recall test, notwithstanding an equal opportunity to review their learning material right before being tested, and even when photo-takers and control participants reviewed an exact transcript of the lecture slides via their photos or printouts, whereas longhand note-takers accessed only a fraction of the content as captured in their handwritten notes. Photo-takers performed comparably to learners who had not taken any notes at all. Experiment 2 further showed that mind-wandering mediates the mnemonic benefits of longhand note-taking: Relative to learners who took photos or did not take any notes, longhand note-takers mind-wandered less and, in turn, demonstrated superior retention of the lecture content. Yet, across both experiments, learners were not cognizant of the advantages of longhand note-taking, but misjudged all three techniques to be equally effective. These findings point to key attentional differences between longhand note-taking and photo-taking that impact learning—knowledge that is easily and conveniently acquired in a snap may not be better remembered.

Public Significance Statement

Using one’s smartphone to take photos enables students to conveniently capture more information, but may not enhance learning. Despite reviewing their photos of a video-recorded lecture right before being tested, photo-takers performed worse than learners who wrote and reviewed longhand notes, while faring no better than learners who did not take notes but simply reviewed lecture printouts. The longhand advantage occurred because it encouraged less mind-wandering than photo-taking or no-note-taking.

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