Dutch psychologist Christof van Nimwegen posits that paper and pens/pencils boost learning and creative problem solving much more than computers do. Van Nimwegen wrote a PhD dissertation, titled "The paradox of the guided user: assistance can be counter-effective", about how software affects brain processes. English professor Michael Leddy summed up the research beautifully in his blog entry about it: "What's crucial of course is not ink or graphite (or paper!) but self-reliance–trusting one's mind rather than the machine." From eNews 2.0:
Van Nimwegen says much software turns us into passive beings, subjected to the whims of computers, randomly clicking on icons and menu options. In the long run, this hinders our creativity and memory, he says.
Van Nimwegen also investigated what happened if, during a task his two groups were working on, their computers suddenly crashed.
"The group that used a computer throughout, felt lost instantly and immediately performed badly when completing the task. The second group, who has used only pen and pencil, simply carried on with its work."
Van Nimwegen says his study demonstrates people may benefit if they continue to study new information by using books and the spoken word.
UPDATE: Christof van Nimwegen emailed to tell me that the eNews 2.0 article I linked to is way off base and boy is he sore about it:
I have indeed done research at Utrecht University, it did involve computer interfaces, and my doctoral thesis was indeed called "The paradox of the guided user: assistance can be counter-effective". With great astonishment I am looking at this entry (over which I stumbled just by accident).
Never, ever in my life have I investigated the use of paper and pens/pencil, nor did I ever mention any of these. NOT ONCE, leave alone that I have done experiments with them! I do indeed mention the issue that under certain circumstances software can make us act "passive" and the text string "randomly clicking on icons and menu options". But this is completely out of context as it stands here, most of it is really nonsense. I am extremely curious where this comes from…..could you please tell me this? I sincerely hope that this "article" will be removed from this website, it can only do damage to myself and my former University.
For an example of a piece of text from this same week of someone who did read my thesis, see (this BBC article).
Of course, if you'd like to know what I did research there is my PhD. thesis, but for a quick idea (see this paper).