The amazing impact of a pen interface on learning

Ever wondered which device interface is best for learning? Pen, keyboard, voice, touch? There are a lot of interface options, but some are vastly more effective than others at enabling and enhancing learning. New evidence suggests that some technologies actually create barriers to learning, thinking, creating and problem-solving.

In the past couple of days, Microsoft has released a report carried out by Professor Sharon Oviatt. Professor Oviatt presents research on the role of keyboards and digital pens in learning, with the key finding being that the way a student inputs information into a computer makes a big difference in the amount of information that they absorb and retain.

It has now been proven that keyboards can be detrimental to students' learning as typing reduces information retention as opposed to drawing and hand-writing, For many languages, as well as symbolic subjects (e.g., music, math, physics, chemistry, and engineering), keyboards inhibit expression while pen interfaces easily support it.  

So why are pen interfaces superior for learning? It's because they more accurately accommodate how we think, allowing a user to draw and create diagrams, write free-hand, and use symbols and numbers. For students of every age, the ability to use spatial content on a pen interface improves comprehension and retention. In a major study, tertiary students who took lecture notes with a pen more actively summarised and paraphrased the content which led to deeper understanding and memory. When using a keyboard students were seen to type more words, but their notes contained more verbatim copying which results in shallower understanding of information. 

In education, this has a huge impact. The new evidence emerging suggests that there needs to be more thought put into the devices that are given to students at schools and tertiary institutions, as having the wrong device may harm their education and limit their potential. A multimodal interface with pen input and other input options such as speech, touch and a keyboard are the most powerful devices for learning. These a multi-modal device, combined with software such as OneNote create the perfect combination for empowering thinking and learning.

You can download and read the report here