Pen and paper help retain knowledge

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The FINANCIAL — A study of university students across 10 countries shows that pen and paper still holds some value over computers, particularly when it comes to retaining knowledge.

The consensus from almost 650 students from Europe and Asia is that while the digital learning environment is dominant at universities, it is easier to concentrate using books and printed material.

Dr Jane Vincent, an academic researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), said the students were fairly consistent in their feedback.

“We surveyed a mix of undergraduate and graduate students in Italy, the UK, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Russia, China, Portugal, Finland and Germany. Overall, while computers are seen as fast and effective communication tools, pen and paper does have some advantages,” she said.

“One of the reasons some students favour handwriting is the role it plays in learning and retaining knowledge. Many of the students in our study found making handwritten notes leads to greater retention of data than if it is typed.”

Students experience difficulties in writing mathematical and scientific formulas and graphs on computers. Chinese students favour writing by hand because they are able to better express themselves in the strokes of handwritten characters than in coded form on the computer.

As noted in Russia, younger students are less accustomed to handwriting and to reading books, tending to favour reading and typing on screen.

Students from Bulgaria and Finland prefer computers over paper, but Italian students lean towards the latter, citing its ‘sensorial’ qualities.

The use of pen and paper for handwriting generated the most enthusiastic feedback.

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As one Finnish student said: “Handwriting is slower and impractical but at the same time more personal and enjoyable.”

An Italian student said: “I like very much to enjoy the scent of a book through the fragrance of the paper.”

However, computers are favoured for information searches, correcting typed material, creating hyperlinks, spell checking and for legibility and neatness.

“Despite problems with posture and tired eyes, reading and writing online is usually more practical in university settings,” Dr Vincent said.

Most students favoured a mix of paper and computers, citing the cost for the former as a drawback.


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