There are several styles of delivering a lecture:

  • The lecturer uses the blackboard and the students write their own lecture notes.
  • The lecturer uses the blackboard and also provide a script so that the students are not forced to create their own script (but they can when they wish).
  • The lecturer uses a slide show and uploads it to his homepage. In those lectures the student normally doesn't create his own script.

Each lecture style differs in the question, whether the students have the possibility to write their own script or whether they are forced to do so. How do those ways to lecture influence the learning outcome?

To make my question concrete: Is there any research investigating how important the act of writing his own script during the lecture is for the learning outcome? Is it advisable to give the students the possibility to write their own lecture notes or should they forced to do so?

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    $\begingroup$ Based on extensive observation of others and myself, I think it's not necessarily about note-taking versus not, as much as engagement versus passivity. Another relevant mechanism is the (apparently inadvertent) general tendency to passivity as default. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ How about one more step: The lecturer uses a slide show and uploads it to his homepage. The students read it there, and do not even come to class. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 13, 2016 at 15:17
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    $\begingroup$ Lecturing harks back to the times when the easiest way to write a textbook was to write it on the board for the students to copy. When I was a student, neither the teacher nor the students expected to understand anything from a lecture. The real learning occurred when we read our notes pencil in hand, trying to make sense of what we had written. Which is why the first reason we always worked in groups was to compare notes. Today, why can't the instructor upload them and let the students download and print them and then work in groups to figure out what they are saying. $\endgroup$
    – schremmer
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 14:53
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    $\begingroup$ @ paul garrett I totally agree of course but this then begs two very related questions: where does said passivity originate and what are teachers doing to avoid boring the students to death with "math in school [which is] unlearnable." Hung-Hsi Wu in the response of the Notices of the American Mathematical Society to Elizabeth Green's Why Do Americans Stink at Math?, (ams.org/notices/201505/rnoti-p508.pdf). $\endgroup$
    – schremmer
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 15:00
  • $\begingroup$ The user who answered your question is a crank. See here and here and the linked chat transcript for evidence. $\endgroup$
    – user21820
    Commented Dec 13, 2017 at 15:26

1 Answer 1


In the following I will try to answer the question asked in the headline and to provide support that is equally applicable to all three styles distinguished in the question.

Based on my own experience as a student as well as during a lifetime as a teacher (mathematics and mathematical sciences) I have become convinced that writing is an important tool to digest learnt contents and to fix it in the memory. This may not concern every student but certainly more than 80 %. In order to stimulate this behaviour I have allowed my students to use one page as a crib during exam. And I have told them in the first lesson about this chance to gain an advantage. The only condition: The sheet must be originally handwritten by the student herself.

The optimal result is this. The student will write much of the stuff immediately after the lesson. During the semester he will have to drop more and more because of limited space. Therefore she will repeat to write the most important and most difficult things again and again. In addition this method is also practically relevant because also in their later professional life the students will be allowed to consult literature.


It is common wisdom that writing supports memorizing. But there are also written sources supporting this standpoint. Google shows about 10 million hits for memorizing by writing like those given below:

  • The very act of writing things down helps to get them lodged into your long-term, ... Memorizing facts for tests by writing them out several times.

  • Memorize abstracts. If you're memorizing abstractions, such as the value of pi, write down the individual numbers or steps on each flash card. Then personalize ...

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    $\begingroup$ Can you support this with references to literature, as asked for in the question? $\endgroup$
    – Tommi
    Commented Nov 1, 2017 at 19:11
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    $\begingroup$ I answered mainly the question asked in the headline. But see the edit for written sources. $\endgroup$
    – user37237
    Commented Nov 1, 2017 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ @K.B. I am more interested in empirical studies in this area. Although, thanks for sharing your experience which might help other teachers. I also like the idea to give students the chance to write their own "cheat sheet" for an exam. I had lectures where the professor gave us the same chance and I found writing a summary for an exam personally helpfull for learning. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 14:51

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