The old-fashioned way to get the most from your brain

Have you ever felt old-fashioned to be the only one in a meeting taking notes by hand? You’re actually onto something. Learning new information, whether for work or in a college course, can be a challenge. But research into how the brain functions reveals a quick way to engage more of your brain and learn faster. And there’s absolutely nothing high tech about it.

In order to get your brain more fully involved in learning, you should take notes with a pen or pencil instead of a keyboard.

A study in Norway at the University of Stavanger’s Reading Center shows that when you write things down by hand, you get important feedback from the actions of your hands and arm along with the neural sensations linked with touching pen to paper. Those types of neural feedback are a lot different — and more involving — than what you take in when you type and touch a computer keyboard.

The research shows that various parts of the brain are stimulated and activated when you incorporate handwriting into your learning experience. Just as you’re imprinting information on a piece of paper, the act of handwriting imprints your new knowledge on a wider range of brain locations than when you type on a keyboard.

Part of the reason this happens is because the motions used in maneuvering a writing instrument encourage more activity in the motor memory part of the brain — and that improves your later recall of new data.

Remember in grade school when your teacher would have you write spelling words from the chalkboard? She knew what she was doing. Another learning advantage to writing things down, confirmed by the study, is that because it takes a longer time than using a keyboard, that extra involvement can also enhance your learning process.

When you use a pen or pencil you more closely align your actions with the way the brain and mind have evolved to learn things. According to researcher Anne Mangen, “Our bodies are designed to interact with the world which surrounds us. We are living creatures, geared toward using physical objects — be it a book, a keyboard or a pen — to perform certain tasks,”

So even if you get writer’s cramp scribbling things down, it’s worth it. You’re opening up new brain connections that the touch of a keyboard doesn’t access.

Carl Lowe

By Carl Lowe

has written about health, fitness and nutrition for a wide range of publications including Prevention Magazine, Self Magazine and Time-Life Books. The author of more than a dozen books, he has been gluten-free since 2007.