Handwriting more effective for learning than typing, study confirms

The pen is certainly mightier than the keyboard when it comes to children’s learning

Writing by hand is more effective for learning than typing, a new study has found.

The study, Taking Class Notes by Hand Compared to Typing: Effects on Children’s Recall and Understanding, led by the School of Psychology at the University if East London, has since been published in the Journal for Research in Childhood Education.

Co-authored by Caroline Edmonds, professor of experimental psychology at the university, and Dr Simon Horbury, a recent MSc graduate, the study compared results from 26 boys aged 10-11 years, testing their memory on certain facts and concepts after they hand-wrote their notes or typed them on a laptop. The children were tested as soon as the lesson was over and again one week later.

“Our study is the first to look at the effect of different types of note-taking on children’s learning. In some countries, the teaching of handwriting in schools is being phased out in favour of typing,” said Professor Edmonds.

“While learning to touch-type is an important skill, both for education and the workplace, our study supports the idea that the type of notes that are taken is important for learning.”

The psychologists were keen to gauge the impact of note-taking on students’ conceptual understanding. While facts are concrete and can be more easily memorised, the abstract nature of concepts require a greater level of comprehension, making them fundamental to the learning process.

Factual recall and understanding of a history and biology lesson were assessed via multiple choice. These tests were conducted immediately after each lesson as well as one week later.

When children were tested straight after the lesson, there was no difference in conceptual understanding whether notes were handwritten or typed. After one week, however, those who had handwritten their notes had formed a stronger conceptual understanding when compared with those who had typed. The same trend was evident among adults who participated in similar studies.

According to professor Edmonds, the handwriting process is, by design, conducive to learning, since students shorten their notes once the information has been processed and organise the information in the process of writing it down.

However, the professor noted that it’s not as clear cut as handwriting being good for learning and typing bad – some software allows for flexible electronic note-taking and drawings, as well as mind maps and other unique features.

Professor Aneta Tunariu, dean of the School of Psychology, commented: “The School of Psychology is fortunate to have such outstanding academics and students working together on ‘firsts’ in research in positive and dynamic ways, with the potential to shape educational experiences and attract global interest.”

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