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Does writing by hand help learning?

Writing by hand seems to be less and less fashionable. By now keyboards, touch and voice commands allow us from PCs, smartphones and tablets to type what we want, writing it perfectly and almost in real time. However, information processing and learning do not seem to go hand in hand: handwriting would, despite everything, still have undisputed advantages.

If graphologists and handwriting scholars feared that they would sooner or later be out of work, they will apparently be able to sleep peacefully. Recent scientific studies seem to argue that writing by hand, although more expensive in terms of time and final yield, it would bring undisputed advantages to learning. No hi-tech device seems able for the moment to definitively supplant “paper and pencil”.

Handwrite and take notes

In a study published in Science, two psychologists from the universities of Princeton and California report the results of a research conducted among a group of students.The aim was to compare the effectiveness of digital media and handwriting in taking notes. The results suggest that handwriting would be a more effective method than digital writing. The reason? If you think it is a simple distraction you are wrong; even when the PC was used for teaching purposes only, the yield on the quality of learning was still lower than handwriting. This is because, the authors explain, while in digital the children tended to report verbatim what they were told in class (given that the writing speed of a PC allows it), in writing by hand, obviously not being able to shorthand word for word, they were forced to carry out a synthesis and a reworking of the concepts heard. This favors learning much more than a simple replicative drafting of the lesson heard.

Learn to write

A study conducted two years earlier reached similar conclusions by studying the brain areas involved in writing in a group of preschool children. Playing a letter through a keyboard or pre-formed template did not involve the same number of cortical areas that these children had to use to instead, try the more difficult path: writing by hand. Writing by hand would have many advantages in learning how to write thanks to the possible errors and inaccuracies that this method involves. Children thus not only learn from their mistakes, but they also learn to recognize the shape of letters regardless of the spelling in which they are written.A previous study also suggested that children urged to write by hand, compared to those who wrote digitally, they would be able to produce a greater number of ideas and words since writing by hand would prompt the re-elaboration of information in a way not comparable to digital writing.

The useful limits of handwriting

Therefore, the traditional and, only apparently, obsolete paper and pencil would prove to be a priceless ally of students and perhaps also of adults.In a digital text we do not have many limits neither of time nor of space, but it is precisely these that, on paper, they force us to synthesize, select and rework the concepts we want to annotate by personalizing our notes in a way that, apparently, the efficiency of technology does not allow.

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