"With writing, you're getting a stronger representation in your mind," researchers from Johns Hopkins University say.

By Nashia Baker
July 12, 2021
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As far as studying goes, everyone has a method that works best for them. Some people prefer typing out notes while others enjoy watching online videos to retain information. But according to a new study, the very best way to learn something new is to write it out (and to write it out by hand, not on a computer). Per a recent study published in the journal Psychological Science, Johns Hopkins University researchers found that handwriting is a "surprisingly faster and significantly better" way to learn skills.

woman writing notes in notebook looking at laptop
Credit: Bongkarn Thanyakij / EyeEm / Getty Images

"The question out there for parents and educators is why should our kids spend any time doing handwriting," Brenda Rapp, a Johns Hopkins professor of cognitive science and senior study author, said in a university release. "Obviously, you're going to be a better hand-writer if you practice it. But since people are handwriting less then maybe who cares? The real question is: Are there other benefits to handwriting that have to do with reading and spelling and understanding? We find there most definitely are."

To put their theory to the test, the scientists rounded up 42 study participants and taught them the Arabic alphabet in three separate learning groups: pen and paper, typing, and video watching. The volunteers then applied their learning method after getting the introduction to an Arabic letter in a short video. The researchers instructed the typing team to find the letter on their keyboard, the video group needed to answer if they saw the letter on screen, and the handwriting group jotted the letter down on paper with a pen.

While each group learned the letters by the end of their six learning sessions, the writing team understood the new information faster than the others—it only took two learning sessions for this group to get the alphabet down. "The main lesson is that even though they were all good at recognizing letters, the writing training was the best at every other measure. And they required less time to get there," Robert Wiley, a former Johns Hopkins University Ph.D. student, current professor at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and lead author, said.

"With writing, you're getting a stronger representation in your mind that lets you scaffold toward these other types of tasks that don't in any way involve handwriting," Wiley noted, also adding that children can also likely learn these skills like adults. "I have three nieces and a nephew right now and my siblings ask me should we get them crayons and pens? I say yes, let them just play with the letters and start writing them and write them all the time," Wiley concludes.

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