Written into memory

November 11, 2016

Written into memory

Laptops, smart phones, tablets and a slew of organising apps have made hand-written notes redundant, haven’t they? Campaigners in America have even argued that we should stop teaching children how to do cursive handwriting because it is a waste of time. You don’t even have to type any more now that modern technology can turn a voice recording into text. But while typing is quicker there is still a good reason to pick up a pen and paper. When it comes to learning, notes that are written by hand has been proven to stick in our memory better than those that are made on a laptop or tablet.

A recent study conducted by Princeton University and University of California showed that students who took handwritten notes generally outperformed students who typed their notes on a computer. Compared to those who typed their notes, people who write them out in longhand appear to learn better, retain information longer, and more readily grasp new ideas, according to experiments by researchers who compared note-taking techniques. 

Image of a notebook and pen

Another study conducted by InTech found that people who take class notes on a laptop are able to type, at 100wpm. So using a laptop they can make more notes that someone who is doing it by hand. But are they benefiting from the volume of notes? According to InTech, the movement of handwriting involves a “motor memory in the sensorimotor part of the brain,” which enables one to have a connection between the reading and handwriting notes. When you type you don’t have this same connection, your brain is not as engaged with processing the information and research suggests this impacts how well you can recall it.

Living in a digital world, it seems that nearly everyone, particularly millennials, have access to computers and the clattering of keyboards has become the soundtrack of workplaces and schools the world over. It would, however, be short sighted to abandon pen entirely in favour of keyboard.

While writing by hand is more time-consuming compared to typing on a computer or phone, that time and mental effort has significant benefits, engraving valuable information more efficiently into our long term memory. It is the very act of writing by hand that helps to commit information to memory. Speed and efficiency is important but there are no short cuts to learning and real understanding.

What does this all mean for us? Well, when you’re grappling with new and challenging ideas that you want to fully take in and understand, grab a pen.


Further reading & references:

Chemin, A. (2014, 12 16). Handwriting vs typing: is the pen still mightier than the keyboard? Retrieved 06 15, 2016, from The Guardian: Handwriting vs typing: is the pen still mightier than the keyboard?

Hotz, R. L. (2016, 03 04). Can Handwriting Make You Smarter? Retrieved 06 15, 2016, from The Wall Street Journal: http://www.wsj.com/articles/can-handwriting-make-you-smarter-1459784659

Mangen, A., & Velay, J.-L. (2010, April 1). InTech Open. Retrieved 06 15, 2016, from InTech Open: Science, Technology and Medicine open access publisher.: http://www.intechopen.com/books/advances-in-haptics/digitizing-literacy-reflections-on-the-haptics-of-writing


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