One of the biggest obstacles faced, at any age, is how to get past blocks in our life. Sometimes the things we think are making our life easier may actually be making it harder. The digital age has created a whole generation of students (and adults) over relying on digital tools to help achieve tasks. A prime example of this takes place in the classroom during note taking by students. Retention, true retention, can only come from focused effort. One step along this path occurs in the ways we attempt to capture knowledge.
Added step in learning
Deciphering and filtering what is important and vital to your understanding of class material and what is not is essential for any student. As the presence of computers and laptops in the learning environment continues to increase they have become, for many the main and only ways of recording information. Relying on a computer to record all of your notes may actually make the task of learning harder. Computers make compiling and collecting data infinitely easier. However, more is not always better. According to a recently published paper by Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, students can often get so lost in the accumulation phase of note taking that they can quickly lose sense of what it is they are writing about.
The added task of the digital divide
Imagine a student taking notes in a lecture. With the prevalence of Wi-Fi you are probably hooked up. The instructor is covering a topic and you “stray away” to find out more about the topic. Your intention is only to do it briefly but your attention has now been drawn away when what the instructor has actually just said, has made it easier to understand. You have missed the opportunity looking for an opportunity to learn is somewhere else. This is merely one example that can be given for the increasing digital divide and the difficulty is may be presenting.
Another example, which is easier: trying to find the square root symbol in Word to insert into your notes or just jotting it down quickly by hand? This may appear to be a case of micromanaging a problem but a case could be made that even a large scale problem can be traced back to its small beginnings. Multiply our square root example by 1000’s of times and that’s a lot of wasted time and more importantly, distracted minutes. If the notes are taken longhand there is a greater tendency to naturally only write what it is important. As much as possible, write it down.
The extra step
As a student, using a computer or a laptop to take notes may seem like an efficient way of organizing your work. Ergonomically, what is happening is an extra layer of focus has been added to your already challenging task of learning. In other words, an extra physical step has been added. This is not to say computers do not have a place in the note taking task process. Computers and tablets are excellent polishing and accumulating tools. However, as the amount of information increases, the ability to mentally process it adequately decreases. As much as possible, write it down.
Overextending our digital bounds
When was the last time you were walking down the street only to come face to face with someone on a smartphone. I know you have. Let’s take it a step further. In order to continue this wonderful tradition someone came up with the idea of creating an app which has a screen that will show you what is ahead of you while you walk and try to check your Facebook at the same time! Apple has filed a patent for new technology to make texting while walking safer by inserting in the text background a live video feed of whatever is in front of the smartphone user.This is another example of how we have overextended the bounds of digital applications.
There is no doubt that using digital means to help us accomplish our goals and complete tasks has literally changed our world but as is the case with anything in life, constraint and focusing our energy and resources in the right place, is paramount. Using a hammer to kill a fly when a small piece of newspaper would have done the trick applies in this regard. Besides, the hammer may even damage the wall and still miss the fly! As much as possible, write it down.