Why write digital handwritten notes

Why write digital handwritten notes

My last post described a number of different workflows educators could explore to create digital handwritten notes –  the how. This post considers the why, but it is not suggesting handwriting digital notes is a magical elixir that will instantly solve all problems related to teaching and learning. Rather it is another tool that teachers could choose to embrace in a small or large way depending on inclination, time, facilities, skill level and a willingness to experiment.

Here is a handwritten mind map I just created on my Surface 3 using a drawing tool called Mischief that I am trying out at the moment. I did not mention this in my last post but it is a drawing tool aimed at artists who draw comic books and it allows me to zoom in or out, has beautifully formed digital inking and supports layers.

I experimented with hand writing digital notes when I first got an Ipad five years ago and it was heavily influenced by my readings of Tony Buzan who developed mind mapping. Since then I have read Mike Rohde’s sketchnotes book which argues why doodling and sketching is a great way of taking notes when listening to a talk or learning new information and I have expressed similar ideas in my own way.


Handwriting notes is fun. If you have fun learning something then teachers and students are going to have energy to perform this activity more.


I am not an artist but drafting handwritten notes allows me to express my creativity and even develop it even when I am doing something as ordinary as creating a worksheet. Creating hand drawn resources with colour, shaded boxes, inked text and sometimes images is a way of scratching the creativity itch. Working digitally has the added advantage of being able to press the undo button whenever I make an error.

Models student work

Errors and rough edges can be quite useful to model the sort of rough edged work that students can and should produce day in day out rather than slick PowerPoints and Word documents. Handwritten digital notes may look rough and artisanal but they can also be used visually to model high standards of presentation and effective note taking, which students should emulate in their exercise books.

Quicker to produce/ Digital files can be shared

This is a workflow issue. I can create and distribute a digital handwritten handout at the last moment relatively seamlessly. For example, I recently used OneNote on my Surface 3 to write out the mark scheme for an end of year test. The completed note was automatically saved into a notebook that was accessible to students as a web address, which I shared to them by launching the notebook on student workstations using the IT classroom control software AB Tutor. Drafting, saving, printing, copying and distributing a conventional worksheet would have been more complicated and time consuming.

No copy and paste

Inked notes have to be read, which is very useful when I am sharing code with students for programming activities. This is a good example of why no copy and paste is desireable when sharing digital information with students. They have to read through the examples, become familiar with what the syntax means and type in the code for themselves getting it to work. Interpreting handwritten notes such as computer code takes a lot more processing than simple computer text and the extra work helps students learn and internalise new skills and knowledge.

Better memory retention

Mike Rohde argues that sketchnoting is a multi modal activity that engages the hands, eyes, ears and brain all at the same time and this helps students to improve their recall compared with typing on a laptop or no notes. This argument is supported by research that suggests students who take handwritten notes have greater recall compared with those who use a computer. I found a number of articles offering such evidence such as this 2014 piece from the Guardian which states:

Drawing each letter by hand improves our grasp of the alphabet because we really have a “body memory”, Gentaz adds. “Some people have difficulty reading again after a stroke. To help them remember the alphabet again, we ask them to trace the letters with their finger. Often it works, the gesture restoring the memory.”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/dec/16/cognitive-benefits-handwriting-decline-typing

Educators are not necessarily trying to improve recall to pass exams but we are always learning new information especially with a new or ever changing subject taught upto A-Level.

Personalised learning

One of the reasons handwritten notes can be effective as learning resource from the point of view of a teacher or student is that they can be personalised much more than generic PowerPoints or Word documents. Teachers can give their resources some personality and make the document memorable when it is tailored to meet the needs of the student. Students making notes can add graphical flourishes such as colour, borders, arrows and doodles to make the document into something they would like to look at later.

In short, handwriting digital notes is a useful, effective learning activity for teachers and students. I will sign off with a screenshot summarising Mike Rohde’s arguments for effective sketchnoting that are more or less analogous to any other form of handwriting digital notes.


Digital Handwriting for Teachers

Sketchnote Notebook


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