Technology Makes the Brain Work Less: Laptops Are Detrimental to Learning

With a mouse, one can highlight, copy, and then paste. Is it almost mindless? Well, it is. Social media like Facebook illustrate how easy it is for people to click "like" and "share". Oftentimes, snippets are even provided automatically. An important question to ask is whether people even read what they post.

Distraction is one reason why devices like smartphones, laptops and tablets are not good for classrooms. Now, there is a study that shows that these devices are bad for another reason.
Psychological Science April 23, 2014 0956797614524581
Similar to calculators which can impair a student's ability to do arithmetic and make sense out of numbers, smartphones, laptops and tablets can hurt a student's ability to process information. Mueller and Oppenheimer performed three studies with students from Princeton University and University of California, Los Angeles. Students viewed a lecture and after some finite time were asked to answer both factual and conceptual questions. An example is shown  below:

Lecture: Mustafa Akyol – Faith versus Tradition in Islam

1. According to the speaker, where in Saudi Arabia are men and women not segregated by their genders?

2. From what two cultures did Muslims adopt the practice of seclusion of women, according to the speaker?

3. What time period does Albert Hourani define as "The Liberal Age" of Islam?

4. According to the speaker, what three reforms did the Islamic modernism help institute in the 19th century Ottoman Empire?

5. The speaker gives several examples of things that are considered "Islamic Law," but which are not in the Koran and actually developed later. Name three.

6. In what year did Turkey have its first free and fair elections?

7. During what era were most of these non-Koranic tenets adopted into Islam, according to the speaker?


1. Describe the concept of "Islamic modernism" as presented by the speaker.

2. To what does the speaker attribute the rise of Islamism in the 20th century?

3. Turkey maintained its independence after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. How did this lead to the development of a more "liberal" Islamic culture in Turkey (compared to other Middle Eastern countries)?
All three studies show students who take notes using a laptop perform worse when asked questions related to the lecture they viewed. In one of the studies, the students were advised not to take notes word for word. Still, even with this intervention, the results are similar. Here are the raw data that pertain to the sample lecture above:

Above copied from Psychological Science April 23, 2014 0956797614524581
The students who participated in these studies generally can type faster than they can write. In fact, in all three studies, those who used a laptop wrote at least a hundred more words than those who used a notebook. Since laptop users recorded more, Mueller and Oppenheimer also looked into the possibility of laptop users performing better if these students are allowed to study from their notes. Tests were then administered a week after the lecture but the students were allowed to review the material using their notes. The results are equally dismal, longhand note takers still perform way better than the laptop users.

This perhaps highlights the difference between the pen and the keyboard. One is mindful, while the other is mindless. This is what the keyboard does. Can we imagine what a mouse does?

Mueller and Oppenheimer end their paper with the following:
...laptop use in classrooms should be viewed with a healthy dose of caution; despite their growing popularity, laptops may be doing more harm in classrooms than good.


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