College Professor Explains: Writing is Better Than Typing For Students

There is a tendency in western culture to assume that all technology is good technology — after all, it represents progress and innovation.  

But studies have proven that the pen is mightier than the keyboard when it comes to learning. It is about the brain and how we absorb, process, and retain knowledge. On the most basic level, writing by hand slows us down long enough to activate the thinking part of our brain, which leads to better memory and creativity.

Ironically, the time it takes to write by hand is exactly what makes it so effective for learning.

Writing by hand helps students remember information. (@ijeab via Twenty20)

Handwriting allows individuals to develop a stronger conceptual understanding when processing information

Recent studies in Japan and Norway show that handwriting allows individuals to develop a stronger conceptual understanding when processing information. Those studies found that students using laptops tended to type what the professor said. At the same time, those who took notes by hand were more likely to listen to what was being said, analyze it for important content and process the information to reframe it in their own words.

Fundamentally, anything a student does that is active rather than passive will improve their performance in school and make studying easier. Most of us are visual and tactile learners, so it makes sense that the act of writing, followed by seeing what we wrote, makes information “stick.” Students can make note-taking even more active by creating a system of color-coding, perhaps dates go in blue, definitions in red, and examples in green. Just thinking about the information to categorize it by color helps students remember more. 

While taking notes by hand improves student performance in class, all forms of writing by hand have benefits, including journaling and using a paper planner. 

Writing in a weekly paper planner helps students “see” their time and better remember their assignments. Many students who leave college cite time management as the primary problem. Experts believe that using a paper planner increases productivity and reduces stress. Simply put, when you write down what you need to do, you are far more likely to do it. As a result, students feel more organized, more in control, and less anxious.  

Weekly planners allow students to organize their day better

Weekly planners with hourly breakdowns allow students to plan their days in greater detail, so they can block out when they are in class and look for “chunks” of time to get schoolwork done, work out, eat, and, yes, SLEEP. In essence, students can write down “appointments” with themselves to go to the library, meet with a study group, or use a 30-minute break to reread some notes. 

Writing in a paper planner is active, leading the brain to start to sort and process tasks and commitments automatically. Paper planners can also reinforce goal setting and teach time management by having students input a due date and work backward to budget their time in the days or weeks leading up to a paper or exam. “Pulling an all-nighter” may sound like a college rite of passage, but nothing is glamorous about it. 

Real success in college is about breaking the work down into manageable blocks and consistently staying on top of it. And it turns out that writing it down, using pen and paper, is one of the best ways to do that.

Centered Student Planner
Virginia Horan is creator of Centered Student Planner.

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About Virginia Horan

Virginia Horan is an academic chair and professor of communication studies who earned the SUNY Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2012.  A passionate advocate for students, she began to research why Gen Z students were struggling with the transition to college.  Based on her research, she decided to teach her student's how to use a paper planner and take better notes by hand. 

The students said the planner was "life changing," so she set out to create an academic planner that tapped into visual and tactile learning while also addressing the high rates of anxiety among this generation of students. The result is the Centered Student Planner, and in addition to the layout, weekly college success tips and positive psychology prompts, also provides exclusive access to over 50 video tutorials that offer academic and emotional support to students throughout the year.

Read more posts by Virginia

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