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Digital vs. Traditional Note-Taking: Weighing the Pros and Cons

Nasma Ibrahim, Staff Writer

Photo//Trusted Reviews

In recent years, the way we learn has undergone a shift, with more students trading out pencil and paper for an iPad and stylus. These sleek and versatile devices have gained popularity, changing the way students take notes and study. But is an iPad worth it?


Considering the average 15 credit course load, a student typically has one notebook for each of their four subjects. With each notebook weighing 1.10lbs, the total weight comes out to 4.40lbs. The lightest iPad, the iPad Mini, weighs about 0.65lb and the heaviest, the iPad Pro 12.9”, comes in at 1.5lbs. The apple pencil weighs 0.73 ounces, or 20.7 grams, while a standard unsharpened pencil weighs six to seven grams. Factoring in these weights, the iPad could lighten a student’s backpack load, but with the addition of a case and keyboard, the iPad might weigh more. 


Some make the argument that an iPad is cheaper than notebooks and stationary in the long term. After all, An iPad provides unlimited notebooks with infinite pages, and you don’t have to worry about running out of ink or lead. However, unless you’re constantly buying notebooks, paper and pencil triumphs in affordability. A typical one subject notebook costs $3.39 at Target. Assuming a student purchases 4 notebooks per term, for eight semesters, the price of notebooks comes to $108.48. A 12pk of wooden pencils replaced every two semesters, totals out to $11.96. For eight semesters, the cost of notebooks and pencils add up to $120.44, more than half the price of the cheapest iPad. 

Note-Taking Experience: 

Although Apple does not provide a native note-taking app, the App Store offers excellent free and paid options. Apps like Goodnotes allow you to easily create notebooks for separate subjects. Without the hassle of multiple notebooks and folders, an iPad allows easy access to notes and assignments, contributing to a neater, more organized backpack. It does take time to get familiar with note-taking on an iPad, and going from the scratchy texture of paper to the glass of an iPad. I personally like the feel of writing on paper, but I enjoy the convenience of highlighting, color coding, and adding images to my notes even more. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Tokyo, found that taking notes on physical paper led to increased brain activity, and 25% quicker writing (Umejima, et al). But personally, I haven't experienced a difference in understanding in classes where I took notes digitally compared to on paper. 


While a notebook is limited to note-taking, an iPad opens up possibilities such as accessing coursework, research, checking emails, and more. With the addition of a keyboard, an iPad can replace a laptop completely.

Choosing between digital and traditional note-taking comes down to personal preference. While digital methods like iPads offer enhanced organization and simplicity, traditional pen-and-paper notes offer simplicity and cost-effectiveness. The choice rests on finding a method that aligns with your learning style.  

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