The arrival of tablet technology (iPad, Samsung and others) has made it easier than ever to use your tablet as a one stop device. Many people use tablets to take notes in meetings or in class because typing your notes makes them more readable and easier to store, email, and share. But you may be missing out on the considerable benefit of handwriting your notes.
I know what you’re thinking: aren’t you the girl who just wrote that the handwritten thank you may be finished? Yes. But that was about communicating; this is about learning.
A recent study published in Psychological Science found that participants who took notes by hand in the study retained more of the information they had received. In part, that’s because we are so much more inefficient when we write by hand. “Students who took notes on the laptop were basically transcribing the lecture,” says Princeton University psychological scientist Pam Mueller, lead author of the study. “Because we write by hand less quickly, those who took notes with pen and paper had to be more selective, choosing the most important information to include in their notes. This enabled them to study the content more efficiently.”
You also use more areas of your brain when you listen to a lecture (or instructions) and write at the same time. You activate both the language center, which is paying attention to what’s being said, and the part of the brain that creates spatial relationships. Writing is also a form of visualization, which can help you mentally rehearse steps in a process. Your notes serve as a way to mindfully practice the steps of solving a problem.
This effect is amplified even more if you are a doodler. Doodlers often illustrate their notes with drawings and directional icons like arrows that show how ideas are related or ordered. The act of thinking about what ideas matter most and which are connected helps you to synthesize and deepen your retention of the material.
Doodling adds real power to your memory. A 2009 study conducted by the Plymouth (UK) School of Psychology asked 40 participants to listen to a monotonous mock telephone message with the names of people coming to a party. Half of the group was randomly assigned to a ‘doodling’ condition where they shaded printed shapes while listening to the telephone call. The doodling group performed better on the monitoring task and recalled 29% more information on a surprise memory test.
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Some scientists are concerned that young children are losing some of this vital brain activity as handwriting is being replaced by typing at a younger and younger age. A 2012 study led by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, found that the inherent messiness of young children’s handwriting serves an important purpose: it teaches them that every variation of a letter is still the same letter. No matter how shaky or crooked your five year old’s letter G is, it’s still a G. If they only see the typewritten version, they may not recognize other variations. The study also found that children who hand wrote produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas as well. Writing helps young brains develop reading and thinking skills and may also be linked to creativity.
It’s possible that your keyboard may be stunting your growth. But we are creatures who love convenience, so what to do? One compromise may be to use a stylus to handwrite notes on your tablet. Apps like Notability and Penultimate allow you to write on ruled screen and save documents to Evernote or Dropbox for storage.
Get started doodling today. Here’s a list of handwriting apps from iTunes.