Does Writing Things Down Help You Learn? Science Says It Definitely Does & Here's Why
The art of the written word — like, literally, the physically written word — has been growing to be less and less relevant with each passing year, thanks in large part to technology. But now, it might really be on its way out for good: According to a recent report from The Guardian, doctors in England have found that children are increasingly struggling to hold pens and pencils and write things down. Yes, you read that right. This generation of kiddos, due to a constant use of technology and screens, are finding it difficult to hold writing utensils, as they're apparently not developing the fine-tuned muscles in their fingers required to do so. Now, not only does writing things down help you learn, but the practice of actually writing with your hands is a necessary step in being able to develop both handwriting and communication skills — which aren't exactly encouraged by using things like tablets, smartphones, and computers all the time.
Mellissa Prunty, a pediatric occupational therapist who specializes in handwriting difficulties in children, told The Guardian that she's concerned by how many children are developing handwriting skills at a later age because of too much technology, as it is a skill that's key to their overall development. She explained,
One problem is that handwriting is very individual in how it develops in each child. Without research, the risk is that we make too many assumptions about why a child isn’t able to write at the expected age and don’t intervene when there is a technology-related cause
Sally Payne, the head pediatric occupational therapist at the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust, added,
Children are not coming into school with the hand strength and dexterity they had 10 years ago. Children coming into school are being given a pencil but are increasingly not able to hold it because they don’t have the fundamental movement skills.
Aside from this kind-of-terrifying development in human history, there are plenty of other reasons why writing things down, and stepping away from your screens, is so important.
For one thing, a 2014 study showed that note-taking with an actual pen or pencil, rather than typing the information on a laptop, is a way more effective means of learning new information. According to their findings, the researchers showed that taking notes on laptops results in "shallower processing," meaning it doesn't help you fully absorb the information in a way that'll allow you to recall it later on.
To illustrate that point, the researchers found that students who took notes on their laptops didn't perform as well on a test of conceptual questions when compared to the students who took notes in good old-fashioned longhand. But why is that?
It's partially because you typically type faster than you write, and the process of writing allows you to translate and process ideas as you learn them. But there's a little more to it than that.
In a study done by researchers at Indiana University, it was found that the parts of the brain that are associated with learning work far better and more actively when someone — even a child who has not yet learned to read or write at all — is asked to reproduce something that is shown to them by doing so in a freehand, written way, as opposed to tracing or typing out what was shown.
The research was led by psychologist Karin James, who told The New York Times that "when a kid produces a messy letter, that might help him learn it." In other words, in order to reproduce what you see, you have to both plan and attempt it on your own, and possibly create something that is totally unlike what you see. It's this seemingly "messy" process that can help in actually processing and learning the meaning of what you are being shown, James explained.
So, if that isn't reason enough to keep on sharpening your pencils, I don't know what is, my friends.