Increasingly, I hear professors giving a lecture saying something like “don’t worry about taking notes because the PowerPoint slides will be posted.” Having a copy of the lecture slides is obviously incredibly helpful when reviewing. However, given that some of most solidified knowledge I remember came from painstakingly recorded class notes (or a very, very funny professor), the “do X because Y” correlation with note-taking strikes me as strangely dissonant.
A lecturer who recommends against taking notes makes the following assumptions. (1) The delivered lecture/speech can be fully captured using a set of PowerPoint slides. (2) Reviewing his/her PowerPoint slides provides near-identical experience as reviewing one’s own paraphrase of those relevant learning points. Assumption #1 is one the lecturer makes of the educational content itself and is outside of the learner’s control. However, assumption #2 is one made about the learner, and I’m not so sure that it’s true.
In the digital age, the world has moved away from manual production of information and into data automatism. Book used to require manual copying which was labor-intensive and expensive. It gave the actual reproduction of writing value. The advent of printing made the reproduction of information dramatically cheaper, but creating information de novo was still labor-intensive and considered valuable. Then came the arrival of the computer file system and electronic books (quick age test: when you think “file” do you think a computer folder with word documents or an actual vanilla folder with paper files?).
On the other hand, the cost of creating good information improved more slowly. The labor of recording creative thoughts has decreased: we no longer carve words onto tree barks; some of us even stopped writing on paper altogether. However, creating information ultimately relies on an innate ability to convert thoughts into something the five senses can digest – words, images, sounds, gestures, dances.
So the underlying question is this: is “taking notes” a creative or replicative learning process for you?