Handwriting Vs Typing: Which To Choose for Better Learning

The concept of handwriting seems quite outdated these days, due to technological advancement and its effects on education and the workplace. Handwriting has been eliminated from most academic programs today. However, the problem with computers and tablets in schools is that they tend to be distracting.

Using a computer in the classroom instead of getting all the job done by hand is much easier, faster, and more convenient, but we cannot help but wonder: are students learning like they should be? Turns out, they don’t.  It has been scientifically shown that the fact that taking handwritten notes is slower process is what makes it beneficial.

Specifically, when students type their notes, they try to write down as much of the lecture as possible. On the other hand, the ones taking handwritten notes are forced to be more selective, as it is impossible to write as fast as they can type. And, the extra processing of the material benefits them on the long run. This is the first explanation! There is yet another one, known as the external-storage hypothesis, suggesting that you learn by being able to look back at what you have written down as well as at the notes of other people.  Another benefit of handwriting is its ability to improve cognitive function. Namely, the combination of the physical touch of pen and paper and the repetitive process boost brainpower. Memory, learning, and motor skills are also improved. 

The research was done by Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of UCLA and it involved 65 students. Each was asked to watch one out of five Ted Talks that covered interesting topics.  They were either given notebooks or laptop and asked to take notes by using whatever strategy they prefer.

After half an hour, they were asked to answer questions regarding what they watched.  There were asked two types of questions: factual-recall questions and conceptual-application questions.  It was found that although the results of the factual-recall questions were the same among both groups of students, the ones using laptops performed worse on the second type of questions.  In other words, students who typed their notes had more shallow interpretation of the lesson, compared to the ones who took notes by hand and comprehended the material better.

Still, even with taking this into consideration, Muller doesn’t predict students to get back to pens and notebooks. As she says, it is difficult to get people to return to pen and paper.  However, they are developing plenty of technologies and different stylus and tablet technologies which are getting better and better.