From page to screen

Bridging the gap between traditional and digital handwriting in a learning environment

Rick Peterson, Global Sr Director Marketing Strategy of Wacom, discusses the future of the classroom and why effective traditional methods may not be a thing of the past 

The world of digital technology certainly hasn’t escaped the classroom with tablets, laptops and digital whiteboards now considered the norm for the last few years. With the rise in digital communication, students have been able to access the perfect tools to learn and express themselves in new and innovative ways. There are still concerns though that many may be losing key skills as they stare at screens all day and listen to the pounding of keys.

However, when it comes to note taking during a lecture or class, unsurprisingly many students will still reach for the traditional pen and paper. Not only is it convenient to carry these tools, it’s a quick and efficient method of taking down information and can help free up mental space to have a focused, organised mind and a routine to get things done. More importantly, research also suggests that those who write instead of type learn significantly more. Technological innovation is inspired by analogue experiences and if the learning experience continues to be improved, solutions should be researched by looking at both sides of the argument. 

Write by hand to process information

A 2014 report published in the journal of Physiological Science looked at student’s note taking methods and its effectiveness. In three separate studies, they found that students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than students who took notes longhand. The report shows that laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words, is detrimental to learning. It has also been noted that thinking ‘visually’ with words AND pictures can stimulate the mind more intensely to help solve problems, generate ideas and communicate more effectively.

Writing enables time to digest

Although laptops, iPads and other digital devices may seem like a quicker form of communication combined with easy collaboration tools and instant access to a wealth of information, pen and paper can actually give students the time that is needed to digest info and enable a much less distracting environment to work. The same journal of Physiological Science concluded that laptop users simply type almost everything they hear without processing the meaning of it at all. There is no cognitive activity – just a simple transcribe of what is being said.

Laptops and tablets can also be extremely distracting. Although in schools the ability to access other websites and applications is unlikely to be available, for students at university for example, the temptation to kill productivity with information from the web can be huge.

Handwriting can help motor-skill development in children

A number of studies have shown that, for children learning to write with a pen or pencil, handwriting can actually help with their fine motor skill development. Handwriting can improve their idea of composition and expression and according to some studies, some of this improved learning actually comes from the haptic feedback – the feeling of actually touching the pen and paper.  Muscle memory is formed around each letter children learn to make on paper. When writing by hand, the movements involved leave a motor memory in a part of the brain which helps us memorise letters. There’s even evidence to suggest that writing with ‘joined-up’ letters can help children read faster and easier and train their fine motor skills even further.

There is a lot of science and research showing the advantages of traditional handwriting methods, but the benefits of typing and digital devices in the classroom are also well documented, for good reason. There have been numerous case studies that have concluded that the use of an iPad improves student’s education. Since 2011, Hove School in the UK has given every one of its students an iPad and the head teacher says it’s changed the student’s and teacher’s performance for the better. He puts this down to students now being much more engaged for longer, however digital devices aren’t only about engagement. By typing notes or homework, documents are instantly saved for access anywhere. If they are saved to the cloud too, then students who use numerous devices in school, university or at home can access them wherever they are, share with parents at home or in the library with no need to take a notepad or folder everywhere with them.

It’s clear that handwritten notes help students retain information and can be quicker, but digital methods save significant amounts of time and can be shared instantly

With the above in mind, there is absolutely no doubt that the increased use of technology in schools and universities can’t be ignored and digital natives of today are growing up with new and exciting technology all around them. They’re using it every day. It’s clear that handwritten notes help students retain information and can be quicker, but digital methods save significant amounts of time and can be shared instantly. Technology companies are trying to create ways in which schools and universities can bridge the gap between the two, continuing to use traditional, proven methods but also ensuring they aren’t losing the concentration of children and are keeping up with what they’re surrounded with in home life and with their peers.

Traditional meets digital

An intelligent way to meet in the middle is the Bamboo Spark. Bamboo Spark is a smart notebook that saves your notes digitally as you write them. This smart folio simply digitises notes and sketches so that users can save into the cloud. The latest app version of Bamboo Spark allows automatic handwriting to text conversion in one simple step that also saves notes digitally as they are written on paper*. Converting handwritten notes to text gives users the ability to archive notes and sketches and share them over email or other office applications such as Evernote. 

It will be interesting to see what other solutions are created for the education market over the next few years that help bridge the gap between analogue and digital use. The merging of the two is becoming more and more important in the world of education and solutions are needed that are efficient, but adhere to the growing needs of digital natives. 


*This feature requires a premium Wacom Cloud account.


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