Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. To submit questions, use this form or #helpstudentsthrive. Read more from this blog.

Classroom Technology Opinion

How to Decide Whether to Ban Laptops in the Classroom

By Daniel Oppenheimer — April 06, 2022 2 min read
Should I ban laptops in my classroom?
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

I’ve heard that it’s better for students to take notes by hand. Should I ban laptops in the classroom?

Blanket bans aren’t a good idea. Here’s something I wrote recently about the topic for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week:

Hi, I’m Danny Oppenheimer. If laptops are banned in local classrooms, you may have heard of me. That’s because it was my lab that showed that students perform better when they take notes by hand than when they use laptops. Before I knew it, those studies were used as justification for laptop bans in classrooms around the country.

I receive a lot of angry emails berating me about these policies—which is unfortunate, since I don’t actually advocate blanket laptop bans and never have. In fact, I don’t even ban laptops in my own classes.

Let me explain. In my research, we showed students TED Talks and had them take notes either on laptops or with a pen and paper. Because most people can type faster than they can write, students using laptops transcribed the talks nearly verbatim. But students who took handwritten notes could not, so they took notes in their own words. Writing by hand required students to understand, synthesize, and summarize the content. Deeper processing of the information, in turn, led to improved learning. As a result, students in the longhand condition scored higher on tests.

Teachers around the country started banning laptops in their classes. But what actually interfered with learning was mindless transcription of a lecture. Laptops merely enabled that by allowing students to take notes more quickly.

Like most technology, laptops are not universally helpful or harmful in the classroom; they are helpful or harmful for specific purposes. The value of a laptop in the classroom depends on the goal of a lesson plan, the nature of the material, type of students being taught, and more.

For instance, a lesson on how to find and evaluate information on the internet might be better when students have access to laptops. A lesson on algebraic expressions, on the other hand, might not be. Students with certain disabilities may need a laptop; other students might be unable to use one. If a lesson requires exact quotes, then laptops are ideal. But if the goal is conceptual understanding, laptops can create temptations for verbatim transcription, which is counterproductive.

Don’t ignore context when deciding whether or not to allow laptops in your class. The answer to the question, “Are laptops good or bad for learning?” is: It depends.

Do encourage students to take notes in their own words. Think about the goal of a lesson and whether or not the presence of laptops will help or hinder it. Just as there’s no one-size-fits-all mode to learning, the same goes for decrees about technology.

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Pave the Path to Excellence in Math
Empower your students' math journey with Sue O'Connell, author of “Math in Practice” and “Navigating Numeracy.”
Content provided by hand2mind
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Recruitment & Retention Webinar
Combatting Teacher Shortages: Strategies for Classroom Balance and Learning Success
Learn from leaders in education as they share insights and strategies to support teachers and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Reading Instruction and AI: New Strategies for the Big Education Challenges of Our Time
Join the conversation as experts in the field explore these instructional pain points and offer game-changing guidance for K-12 leaders and educators.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Classroom Technology Students Get Hundreds of Notifications on Their Phones Every Day. Even at School
Nearly a quarter of the cellphone notifications students receive each day come during school hours, new report shows.
2 min read
Group of diverse 8-10-year-olds sitting in a window sill looking at their cellphones.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Classroom Technology Opinion Skip the AI Hype: What Can Educators Do With It?
Artificial intelligence can provide practical assistance in the classroom, in the front office, and at home.
7 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Classroom Technology Monitoring or Blocking What Students Do Online Poses All Kinds of Problems
Schools need to do a better job examining the downsides of monitoring students online behavior and blocking internet content, says a report.
4 min read
Photo of high school student in classroom using tablet computers.
E+ / Getty
Classroom Technology Opinion How ‘Innovative’ Ed Tech Actually Reinforces Convention
Alfie Kohn warns that tech executives and other leaders aren't asking the important questions about teaching and learning.
Alfie Kohn
4 min read
Illustration of school children being helped out of a black box by their teacher. Inside the black box is their classroom full of education technology.
Robert Neubecker for Education Week