It's All in the Movement
Though the authors did not discuss movement, I would submit that one of the key reasons that students perform better with longhand notes is not only because they are processing the material differently at the outset, but because they are also
differently. It may be that students are able to process the material better, comprehend it better, and retain it better, because the movement-based tasks involved in longhand note taking are far more likely to stimulate the brain in beneficial ways, therefore greatly enhancing learning.
Discover the Movement Tasks
Here are just some of the brain-stimulating movement tasks involved in longhand note taking that are not engaged in laptop note taking:
1. We use a SINGLE hand for longhand note taking. This activates one hemisphere of the brain that is specialized for this task, which likely allows other parts of the brain, to process the material more efficiently.
2. The muscle movements of hand and fingers required with pen and paper are far more refined and subtle than the hand movements required in typing.
3. Instead of staring at a screen, eye muscles are far more active, converging on the point where the pen touches the page and tracking the written letters across the page.
4. Eye, head and neck muscles are more engaged with hand writing when a student is looking from the professor (or front of classroom) to the page.
Movement is Key
We know form the work of many researchers that movement is a key factor in learning. Movement stimulates the brain possibly more than any other activity. The book, Spark, by John Ratey, MD summarizes much of the research showing how movement stimulates learning. In addition, it used to be thought that the cerebellum’s main function was to control and orchestrate movement. It is now known that the cerebellum plays a key role in higher learning processes as well. Explore More >> The Cerebellum and the Reading Process
It may also be that having the eyes on the screen and the hands hovering over the electronic tracking pad of the computer, which are both considered detrimental*, could also be a factor reducing the effectiveness of student learning when taking notes with laptops.
Though multiple factors are involved, the outcome is clear: For best performance, students should ditch the laptop and opt for pen and paper notes.