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The Effects of Handwriting Experience on Literacy Learning: Handwriting beats Keyboard Hands-Down!

Here’s a new chapter of the continuing story of/debate on whether it’s better for learning if you use pen/pencil and paper or a keyboard.

Recently I came upon a new piece of research via ScienceDaily entitled Handwriting beats typing and watching videos for learning to read. In that post, ScienceDaily summarises a piece of research by Robert Wiley and Brenda Rapp as follows:

Though writing by hand is increasingly being eclipsed by the ease of computers, a new study finds we shouldn’t be so quick to throw away the pencils and paper: handwriting helps people learn certain skills surprisingly faster and significantly better than learning the same material through typing or watching videos.

Wiley and Rapp taught three groups of learners the Arabic alphabet: writers, typers and video watchers. All learned were introduced to the letters one at a time by watching videos of them being written along with hearing names and sounds. After this, the three groups had to learn what they had seen in different ways. The video group was flashed a letter on the screen and had to say if it was the same letter they’d just seen, the typers had to find the letter on the keyboard, and the writers had to copy the letter with pen and paper.
After as many as six sessions, everyone could recognise the letters and made few mistakes when tested, but the writing group reached proficiency faster than the other groups — a few of them in just two sessions.
As all of the learners could recognise the letters, the researchers tested whether respondents could write with them, using them to spell new words and using them to read unfamiliar words. The study showed that the writing group was decisively better in both.

Abstract
Previous research indicates that writing practice may be more beneficial than nonmotor practice for letter learning. Here, we report a training study comparing typing, visual, and writing learning conditions in adults (N = 42). We investigated the behavioral consequences of learning modality on literacy learning and evaluated the nature of the learned letter representations. Specifically, the study addressed three questions. First, are the benefits of handwriting practice due to motor learning per se or to other incidental factors? Second, do the benefits generalize to untrained tasks? And third, does handwriting practice lead to learning and strengthening only of motor representations or of other types of representations as well? Our results clearly show that handwriting compared with nonmotor practice produces faster learning and greater generalization to untrained tasks than previously reported. Furthermore, only handwriting practice leads to learning of both motor and amodal symbolic letter representations.

Source: The Effects of Handwriting Experience on Literacy Learning – Robert W. Wiley, Brenda Rapp, 2021

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