The relationship between learning and handwriting

Those who take notes by hand have different learning skills

Smart devices are available in almost every minute of our lives but not always. Sometimes, the batteries run out, you do not have a printer with you on the way or you quickly want to add a drawing such as a small map to your writing. Also, you may not be able to use the notes of your mobile phone to write a love letter, to leave kind messages under the fridge magnet or to make up a shopping list. Why the need for handwriting is not only explained by practical reasons can be confirmed by anyone who has ever studied for a university exam, at least if they were using their own notes for it.

Those who did so could realise that university notes borrowed from others and produced with a printer in a matter of seconds included all the important information as well, however, handwritten university notes are really priceless resources, which make learning much easier. Naturally, such an experience does not prove anything on its own, however, scientists demonstrated that this assumption is true in a number of studies.

Louise Spear-Swerling received her PhD in cognitive psychology from Yale University in 1989. In a study published in 2006, the American expert notes that handwriting plays a pivotal role in the development of children therefore its teaching is essential, partly to successfully address learning difficulties. These include reading difficulties, writing disabilities, nonverbal learning disabilities, and hyperactivity, just to name a few. Her research demonstrated that the absence of handwriting leads to reduced learning abilities and logical thinking skills.

A study published by French and Swiss researchers in 2013 presents proof gained from experiments that children whose formal teaching used digital platforms and keyboards instead of handwriting rapidly showed signs of a slowdown in the development of their logical skills. The use of keyboards, controllers and touchscreens on tablets fails to adequately develop fine motor skills.

A few years later, Estíbaliz Aragón-Mendizábel, a researcher from the Universidad de Cádiz and his partners proved that while students are able to take notes faster using a keyboard, this information is less effectively stored in people’s memory. This is true for both the short term and the long term memory and their theory is confirmed by exam results as well: students using handwriting for note-taking performed visibly better both in oral and written tests.

But there is more. The excessive use of digital devices does not only cause people to stop using handwriting and to be able to learn less efficiently or to lose marks made by their hand, a reflection of their personality. As two South Korean researchers, Seong-Yeol Kim and Sung-Ja Koo point out in their study published in 2016, the excessive use of digital devices may lead to physical and sensory deformations and the appearance of new public health concerns. Widespread consequences include impaired vision and hearing, deformed limbs and joints, spine disorders as well as a decline in mental and logical skills.

Writing is constantly changing with digitalisation becoming increasingly dominant. However, handwriting remains necessary as it is part of our personality. It is free, it does not require any programs and it is always available whether it is on the edge of a forest, in the middle of the desert or with run-out batteries. Or as the renowned British writer and journalist, Simon Jenkins writes, we are slaves to the printed word, but only handwriting conveys real beauty.



Aragón-Mendizábal, Estíbaliz, Cándida Delgado-Casas, José-I. Navarro-Guzmán, Inmaculada Menacho-Jiménez, and Manuel-F. Romero-Oliva. “A Comparative Study of Handwriting and Computer Typing in Note-Taking by University Students.” Análisis Comparativo Entre Escritura Manual y Electrónica En La Toma de Apuntes de Estudiantes Universitarios. 24, no. 48 (7/1/2016 2016): 101–7.

Kim, S.-Y., Koo, S.-J., 2016. Effect of duration of smartphone use on muscle fatigue and pain caused by forward head posture in adults. Journal of Physical Therapy Science 28, 1669–1672.

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Planton, S., Jucla, M., Roux, F. E., & Démonet, J. F. (2013). The “handwriting brain”: a meta-analysis of neuroimaging studies of motor versus orthographic processes. Cortex, 49(10), 2772-2787.

Spear-Swerling, L. (2006). Children’s reading comprehension and oral reading fluency in easy text. Reading and Writing, 19(2), 199-220.