Handwriting- Still worth learning?

image from of The Guardian

Every once in a while, news stations will break away from whatever tragedy they are covering that day to do a segment on the decline of handwriting in the United States. The downturn in two-fold: schools decrease the amount of time they spend on teaching it, especially cursive script. Adults abandon it in favor of leaving voice memos or jotting things down on their smart phones. So I wondered: between handwriting and electronic writing, is one better than the other? I assumed that as most people turn to electronic ways to “write” everything down, science would back up that this is a reasonable substitution, a progressive, 21st-century way to do things better than had been done before. But does my own hypothesis concur with that off the scientific community?

image courtesy wikihow.com

Even though that was my hypothesis, my own preference has always been to handwrite things. In all but one class here at Penn State I use old fashioned pen and paper to take notes, and I began to observe similar things as stated in this Atlantic article. I found I took away the key points better in those classes I manually wrote things down than when I used a keyboard. Further research shows that this finding could affect children from a young age. The University of Washington went into great detail in a randomized, controlled experiment that saw children in 3 different grade levels (2nd, 4th, and 6th) write essays with either a computer or a pen. Those writing manually consistently wrote longer essays in a more expeditious manner. To me, these are crucial stepping stones in the learning process that would seem to increase chance for success in later life, but length of the writing does not necessarily equate to quality. To me, this study can’t be held in the highest regard when trying to figure out my hypothesis as I am looking to find differences in quality of notes, not quantity of essays.  A report that was published in SAGE Journals contained the results of three separate experiments that all agreed with their alternative hypothesis that written notes are preferable to those typed.

But is this conclusive? I feared it wasn’t, because the Texas sharpshooter problem could be in full effect here. But while millennial’s for the most part favor technology, the real issue isn’t what they prefer, but what is a better and more efficient way to take and remember notes. And a google search on the subject begins with 5 straight pages in favor of handwriting with no evidence to the contrary.  This leads me to believe that while the null hypothesis hasn’t been rejected, it certainly looks very likely that the alternative hypothesis of handwriting being preferable is correct, which means I was wrong in at least the area of note-taking!

5 thoughts on “Handwriting- Still worth learning?

  1. Anastasia Skold

    Handwriting has always been a dominate part of history. Before we could formally write, we had to rely on our memory to remember everything that we have done or that we have to do. When we first got into writing, it helped our brains remember things better, which could be why some people prefer to write their notes instead of typing. It’s pretty obvious that nobody in college write cursive like we were taught to in elementary school. But handwriting things down actually helps our brain learn motor skills that we will need throughout our lives. Here is an article that may interest you.

  2. Hyun Soo Lee

    This reminded me of one of my blog posts where I wrote that there could be possible health benefits to writing. In my post, I detailed a couple of studies where subjects found their injuries and immune systems improved after going through a routine of expressive writing. I am not sure if they wrote in longhand or if they typed, but if it was the former, people might do well to think about writing out ideas more before typing them. Now if the debate between writing in longhand vs. typing were applied to the idea of physical health benefits in a study, it could turn up some pretty significant findings. Regardless, handwriting, to my mind, is an important skill and should continue to be taught in classrooms.

  3. Rachel Coblentz

    I think the importance of handwriting is surging once again. My sister just graduated from Penn State in May 2015, so she arrived as a freshman just four years ago. She was shocked when I told her that most of my professors don’t allow me to use my laptop in class. She said that most professors recommended taking notes on a laptop. In the past few years, there has been lots of studies on whether laptops hinder learning. Andrew also took a look at this , so that is why we are not allowed to have laptops in SC200. I think this information shows that there will once again be a big push towards handwriting.

  4. Eric Horowitz

    Studies can show that people still think hand writing is worth learning since most of transaction done are done with a firm nice and clean signature but as technology evolves handwriting on a piece of paper might just be out date for our kid’s kids to learn. By then i imagine that everyone will be writing on their tablets instead of paper submitting things via email rather than handing in papers. This evolution of technology might actually out date the use of the typical paper and pen. Not that I am concluding it is not worth learning I am just bringing up the point that it might be obsolete in the coming years.

  5. Nancy Hilary Berman

    When I was in elementary school, I was very excited when I found out we would be learning how to write in cursive. My family wrote in cursive normally, and I was excited to be learning what they could do. 5 years later when my sister was in that same elementary school classroom, I found out that they were not going to be learning cursive. Schools and educational systems now believe that cursive is a waste of time, however, I highly disagree. According to this article, many states are fighting to keep cursive in their curriculum. Advocates including Linden Bateman argue that “more areas of the human brain are engaged when children use cursive handwriting than when they keyboard…. writing script enhances hand-eye coordination and develops fine motor skills, in turn promoting reading, writing and cognition skills.” Overall, it may seem on the surface level like a waste of time, but teaching children to write in cursive has many positive benefits for long-term effects, and I believe should be taught in all schools everywhere.

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