Susan Dynarski in New York Times: Put away your laptops to learn more during lecture

November 28, 2017

In a November 22 article for the New York Times’ Economic View column, "Laptops are great. But not during a lecture or a meeting," Susan Dynarski reviews the research on electronic note taking during college lectures: Do these aids help or harm students in retaining the material?

“[A] growing body of evidence,” Dynarski writes, “shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades.”

Why? After reviewing the results of several randomized experiments, Dynarski says laptop note takers (and the classmates sitting nearby) comprehend substantially less of the lecture than their traditional pen-and-paper counterparts do. “Laptops distract from learning,” Dynarski says, “both for users and for those around them.”

Dynarski does make one major caveat: a no-laptop policy reveals students with disabilities in the classroom, since they are the only students permitted to use electronics. “That is a loss of privacy for those students, which also occurs when they are given more time to complete a test,” Dynarski says. “Those negatives must be weighed against the learning losses of other students when laptops are used in class.”

Dynarski believes the research on laptops in higher education likely also applies to middle and high school classrooms, as well as meetings in the workplace.

The article spurred a flurry of media (and social media) attention, both supportive and critical, including:

--By Jacqueline Mullen (MPP '18)