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I was recently asked about actions that learners can take to aid in their learning. In conjunction with this question (thanks, reader!), and some other discussions, this week’s articles focus on learner note-taking and slide accessibility. The questions that we’ll be looking at this week are:

  • Does texting during a presentation impede note-taking and learning outcomes?
  • Should learners have access to a copy of the slides to improve learning?

Texting & Writing

Research shows that the majority of college students engage in texting behavior while in class (Olmstead & Terry, 2014). From a learner perspective, I think it is fair to say that many of us have had times during presentations where we have a text that we feel we *need* to read or send. Of course, we want to minimize being rude or missing crucial information, so we always end up trying to be sneaky…

From an instructor perspective, seeing learners text during a presentation might be distracting. However, a bigger concern might be that our audience isn’t getting the important information that we’re teaching.

Either way, investigating the effects of multitasking while note-taking is the key to answering these concerns! For this particular study, the investigators aimed to assess the effects that texting during a presentation has on note-taking quality, as well as lower- and higher-order learning (Waite, Lindberg, Ernst, Bowman, & Levine, 2018).

The current study evaluated this type of multitasking by creating three groups: a texting group, a non-texting group, and a control group. The texting group received text messages from researchers throughout the presentation, while the non-texting group did not text at all. The control group did not participate in a presentation at all. The exam to evaluate performance included multiple choice questions for lower-order (LO) cognition and essay questions for higher-order (HO) cognition (Waite et al., 2018).

The results are probably quite unsurprising, but nonetheless important. First, the results illustrated that both groups in the presentation performed better on the exam than the control group, which indicates that learning occurred from the presentation. Now to the goods - was there a difference between texters and non-texters? Indeed. The non-texting group took higher quality notes. Additionally, the non-texting group scored higher than the texters in the LO cognition questions, those multiple choice questions assessing factual knowledge. Specifically, the texting group performed worse on the items related to information presented while they were texting (go figure!). However, this did not actually extend to the HO questions, the open-ended, free-response questions (Waite et al., 2018). Since higher quality notes were related to better scores on the HO questions, the lack of difference in scores between the groups is odd. The authors suggest this finding may indicate the HO measure was not sensitive enough.

Regardless, the findings of this study indicate that multitasking, specifically texting in this case, during a presentation may lead to lower quality notes and lower performance (Waite et al., 2018).

Key Takeaways: Encourage learners to keep their texting/messaging devices on silent or out of reach, as note-taking quality and learning performance may suffer.

Read More ($): Waite, B. M., Lindberg, R., Ernst, B., Bowman, L. L., & Levine, L. E. (2018). Off-task multitasking, note-taking and lower- and higher-order classroom learning. Computers & Education, 120, 98-111.

“Interruptions from online media that are not relevant to class material can interfere with both lower-level fact learning and with the ability to integrate material through quality note-taking“

- Waite et al. (2018)

The Electr(on)ic Slide

As an instructor, I’ve had many learners ask for copies of my slides prior to our given module. You may have experienced this as an instructor, or as a learner seeking to prepare for an upcoming course. As learning scientists, we must ask ourselves - does having access to copies of the slides actually lead to improved learning outcomes?

In Kim’s (2018) study to evaluate slide access, learners were split into three conditions: full slides, partial slides, or no slides. At the beginning of each session, learners in the full slides condition received a copy of the slides in their entirety, while learners in the partial slides condition received a copy of the slides with items missing. Lastly, those in the “no slides” condition did not receive any access to the slides. All learners were instructed to continue note-taking as they normally would (Kim, 2018).

At the end of the session, notes were immediately collected and a test was administered 15 minutes later. A week after completion, a delayed test was also administered - to assess the longevity of potential effects. Tests included recall, recognition, and higher-order performance questions (Kim, 2018). Full, partial, or no slides?

Results illustrated stronger impacts on learning outcomes in the long-term when learners were provided with partial slides over full slides (Kim, 2018). While full slides did show promise for the immediate test, those gains diminished in the long-term assessment. Considering we are generally training or teaching for long-term effects, providing partial copies of slides would be more beneficial for learners (Kim, 2018). It should be noted that learners not receiving slides seemed to perform best, but the author provides qualitative evidence (i.e., learner preference for copies, anxiety from missing talking points, etc.) that permitting access to slides may be important (Kim, 2018).

As for note-taking, it was found that the number of “markers” predicted learning outcomes, but not the number of words. In this study, “markers” were identified as “signs for structuring (e.g., numbering, bullets), emphasis or indexing (e.g., asterisks, underlining), connecting (e.g., drawing connecting lines), and summarizing or schematization (e.g., boxes and matrixes)” (Kim, 2018). So, what can we do with this information?

As a learner, be sure to take elaborative notes! Holding back from accessing slides prior to a presentation may be beneficial for learning. However, if slide accessibility is important to you - remember to keep writing quality notes and maintain focus on the speaker 📢

Key Takeaways: If presenting with slides, it may be best to keep them until after the presentation. However, learners may request slides (or you might find yourself wanting to share them) - in this case, try to only release partial slides.

Read More ($): Kim, H. (2018). Impact of slide-based lectures on undergraduate students’ learning: Mixed effects of accessibility to slides, differences in note-taking, and memory term. Computers & Education, 123, 12-25.

Pets of Learning Science Weekly

Our furry friend this week is a real cutie, Kurt Cobain the cat! He’s pictured below in the Florida sun, experiencing a true state of (I’m so sorry for this) “Nirvana” 😵

Thanks for sharing him with us, Darrell S. 🎸

Send us your pet pics at

Wondering why we’re including animal photos in a learning science newsletter? It may seem weird, we admit. But we’re banking on the baby schema effect and the “power of Kawaii.” So, send us your cute pet pics -- you’re helping us all learn better!

The LSW Crew

Learning Science Weekly is written and edited by Kaitlyn Erhardt, Ph.D.

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