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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Touch Typing - Cursive Writing - Why?

I'm not sure if it's only our school district, but 4th graders (9 year olds) spend considerable time learning cursive writing and are not taught touch typing. Why?

This is especially troubling because students certainly are expected to write their assignments on a computer. Oh, that is unless the teacher wants them to write it in cursive just to help them learn how to write in cursive. I had a bit of trouble explaining this to my son who struggled with cursive - the same son who did the Fourth Grader Wikipedia Update.

I personally only use cursive when I write my signature. And I'm not sure I remember the last time I even had to read cursive writing.

Can anyone explain this to me?

And will it change in the next two years before my youngest becomes a 4th grader?


Michael Williams said...

This is very interesting. I remember way back in the day learning how to write in cursive and now I almost do no writing at all. Touch typing and proper typing skills are a much larger asset and should be focused on more. I am really interested in learning more about this.

~ Glexia (

Karen said...

As a middle school teacher, I applaud your son's school for teaching cursive. Handwriting is an area that has been cut down in favor of high stakes testing. Not everything can be done on a computer, some things need to be handwritten and good handwriting is important. I cannot tell you how horrible the handwriting is for some of my students; 7th and 8th graders whose handwriting looks like a second grader. Sure, being able to type well is very important, but so is good handwriting. Cursive is actually easier to learn since the pencil rarely leaves the paper.
BTW - I'm a computer teacher : )
(I also teach Reading and my certification is in Special Education)

Tom Carding said...

I seem to remember being told that something very different happens when you write something down as to when you type or speak.

Something about having to translate the thought into words and then into hand actions cements what you are writing far more firmly in your mind.

I'm sorry I have no citations or sources here but it might bear ffurther investigation...

Anonymous said...

I think Karen makes some good points. I have also heard from a friend who is a learning disabilities therapist that writing cursive is good for the development of fine motor control.

I seem to recall something along the lines that TC mentions as well, but I'm not convinced the same isn't true of typing.

For myself, I write cursive a few times a day. I enjoy the physical act of writing.

My own sons' handwriting was absolutely atrocious. My elder son's is still pretty poor, but my younger son recently started to take pleasure in the action of writing, too, and his handwriting has improved no end as a consequence.

I think it is an important literacy skill, and faster than printing, but agree that the children should be learning to touch type very early on, since this constitutes an equally important literacy skill (in our society, at any rate).

Anonymous said...

Learning to type properly only takes a few weeks. Learning to write properly can take years (and some of us never really learn...).

Besides, some things really need to be handwritten as opposed to typed up on a computer. Perhaps not for school purposes, but who cares?

V Yonkers said...

Writing is more than putting together letters. In fact, most writing instruction begins with printing, then goes to cursive in second grade. My son's school district decided to cut out printing and started with cursive at kindergarten. However, they found that most kindergarteners were not developed enough for cursive, either in their fine motor skills or literacy skills.

Recently, there have been a lot of work done on the difference in skills between "computer based writing" and pen and pencil. There are some very interesting studies on the differences in composition. However, the most important aspect of current policy has to do with testing, in which students from schools that lack technology resources will be at a disadvantage in the high stakes testing (a federal mandate). Students that are only trained for keyboarding would be at a disadvantage with the standardized pen and paper tests that many states (New York has extensive writing passages on all of its English Language Arts tests) require.

If you are interested in the differences between pen and paper and computer based composition, I recommend the following articles: Van Waes, L. & Schellens, P. (2003), Writing profiles: the effect of the writing mode
on pausing and revision patterns of
experienced writers. Journal of Pragmatics, 35, 829-853.

And: Testing writing on computers: found at

Dennis D. McDonald said...

After years in technology consulting and project management, I've settled on taking notes in a paper notebook when attending meetings and conferencing on the phone. All other times I use a computer. The thought processes and skills behind each are mutually reinforcing - you have to think before you write (or type). My theory is that mentally they reinforce each other. But I have no data to back that up.

Tony Karrer said...

Hmmmm - this is making me realize why we still teach it. Clearly there's a wide difference of OPINIONS on this. I wonder how much of this is backed up.

While I agree that capturing notes and writing is incredibly important from a learning standpoint, I'm not sure I buy that learning kids brains wouldn't end up having similar ability to learn from hand writing vs. typing on a computer.

I would also question whether it doesn't make sense to ensure that they can learn equally well from typing so that it's an equivalent exercise.

I do buy that cursive teachers fine motor skills - and those are different than typing, piano, etc. Still not sure I buy that's worth the amount of time spent.

There must be research backing some of this up???

wslashjack said...

When I first read this post, Tony, I didn't think to fact I didn't think you would GET any comments. Wrong...and now I have one, too.

Oddly, I haven't written cursive since junior high...I even print my signature (with some flourish). But it's the difference in keyboarding and hand writing that has caught my interest, here.

I write well on the fly, and I enjoy that about myself. But I do not organize concepts well in keyboarding. Text is too linear for this.

This is most apparent when I'm tasked with developing any kind of creative strategy or presentation. Typically, I write down as many things as I can, relative to the topic. Much of this may be quick, cryptic notes. Then it's almost like drawing, as I use arrows and lines to connect and organize thoughts into related groups, and tack on quick additional insights. I just can't do that on computer.

It's kind of like the difference between sculpting something, and photographing it...

Anonymous said...

Tony, look at the references I cited. Believe me, this is currently a BIG debate in writing and literacy research (of which the Dept. of Ed and other educational organizations such as NAEP have been researching this issue over the last 6 years). The NAEP study had over 7,000 students in its study. You can find the results here:

A big part of this debate has to do with equity and access to computers, along with student development.

By the way, my specialty is in computer supported writing.

Jaz said...


That's interesting actually. I was educated in the Belgian system and we never learned to write in print, we learned cursive from (5/)6 years of age.

My gut feeling about this is that writing and typing are two very different things. Perhaps it's simply the fact writing is more time-consuming but I get the feeling that you *think* more when writing than when typing because you have to get it right first time around (or face a complete rewrite). You can't easily swap paragraphs, move a section from A to B or simply remove or rephrase a sentence the way one does (well, I do, anyway...) when typing.

Wouldn't that help develop other skills like spelling (no spellchecker when handwriting), forethought and learning to organize ideas/concepts in your mind?

Anonymous said...

I think a good question is, why do we as adults print instead of using cursive when we write with a pen/pencil on paper. I know that I was taught cursive in school.

I think that I made the switch back to printing in college when most of my classes were math, science and engineering. All of the equations were printed out so why not print everything.

Now, I only use cursive on my signature.

I didn't learn how to type until I was in high school. It is amazing to think that students in grade school are now using computers to complete their assignments. For me, my typing improved the quickest when I started spending time in online chats and MUDS. Both required fast typing.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Tony - I can't remember the last time I wrote in cursive aside from my signature.

I still write sometimes, but I've been printing for years. Personally, when I look back at my high school years, my typing class was probably of the most value to me today.

Is cursive doomed to be relegated to a bygone era? It already has been for me...

Paul said...

From my own perspective, I learned printing and cursive in grade school, like many. I never learned to type, although my advanced hunt-n-peck style could roughly be considered typing. I did take one typing class in high school, but it didn't really stick.

But technology is exactly the point at which my writing ability - that is, the physical act of writing cursive - went south. Because I am so oriented to computers, I think faster than I write which leads to an almost dyslexic result when I try writing something versus typing it.

I used to have decent penmanship in my younger years. But because I haven't been required in any meaningful sense to use that skill over the last twelve years, my handwriting now is quite bad in all honesty. My mother blames this on my writing teachers when I was young, but that really isn't the case in my opinion. I think it simply stems from not practicing that skill regularly for so long. These days it's so much easier to type and print than get out a pen and paper in some cases that handwriting has become, for me, something of a last resort skill for writing checks for bills (if even that).

I think it is still good for children to have writing classes early in school. But I do not see writing's prominence returning in any meaningful way, at least until electronic writing technologies advances and become more widely used and accessible. Even in that case however, I would think that typing would still be a preferred mode for most communications.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher for 18+ years in the middle school and now the high school setting, handwriting is still important (just like spelling, etc). I'm the Instructional Technology Specialist at a high school with a 1 to 1 laptop initiative in its 4th year. Our students create many assessments on the laptops, but they also have tests and assignments where legible handwriting is still a "must".

Personally, I only use my cursive penmanship when signing my name or writing a thank you/sympathy/friendly note. Sometimes, computers just can not replace the personal handwritten note.

I understand the debate between both methods and find myself composing my handwritten notes on the computer first then hand writing them. I feel that students need both methods. I do know that when I am taking notes, I recall more of what I write than what I key.

Tony Karrer said...

This has been great information. I'm glad to see that there's some difference of opinion on this. However, to clarify (and this discussion has yet to change it) my belief is that children should be taught:

1. Printing (handwriting that is not cursive)
2. Computer typing

Teaching them how to write in cursive is not needed. Maybe something like Cursive or Caligraphy could be taught as almost an art class + fine motor skills. But right now, it's a rigorous part of the curriculum - but then is disposed within about a year or two (no more requirements to write anything in cursive).

I still would support learning printing (handwriting). I agree that some things (thank you notes) are better handwritten. But printing is okay.

Note: I should never have somehow lumped in the term writing because I believe that writing (such as writing my blog, writing a report, etc.) is an INCREDIBLY important learning tool - maybe the most important. And I'm really happy that students are being asked to write even before they can spell or really even fully handwrite (b's and d's backwards are okay).

I would guess that there's a difference for a while for most people when they write via handwriting vs. via typing, but eventually the means of creating the letters, words, sentences, paragraphs become less important. Is that true?

I would HIGHLY DOUBT that learning to compose letters in cursive gives any advantage to writing skills and is significantly different in any meaningful way from printing.

Given all that, I'm starting to become MORE CONVINCED that it's a waste of a lot of instructional hours. And I REALLY want them to switch it to touch typing training. That I KNOW will be used for many years of their life. And since more and more of their writing will be done on a computer, they should learn how to compose from there as part of the curriculum rather than leaving it to them to learn.

wslashjack said...

Totally agree with your summation, Tony!

Donald Clark said...

TC noted that writing something down helps you remember something better. Robert Marzano performed a meta study (A theory-based meta-analysis of research on instruction, 1998) and came up with these two findings on "Idea Representation:"

1. Note taking techniques have an overall effect size of .99, indicating a percentile gain of 34 points. These techniques require students to generate personal linguistic representations of the information being presented.

2. However, the instructional technique with the largest effect size within this information processing category was graphic representations. This technique produced a percentile gain in achievement of 39 points. One of the most effective of these techniques was semantic mapping (Toms-Bronosky, 1980) with an effect size of 1.48 (n=1), indicating a percentile gain of 43 points. With this technique, the learner represents the key ideas in a lesson as nodes (circles) with spokes depicting key details emanating from the node.

I agree with Dennis that it does not really matter if you use cursive, print, or type as I believe it is the exercise or activity itself, rather than the method used to capture the notes. When I take notes, I use cursive or type because I'm much faster at capturing the concepts than printing. And since using a computer every time I want to take notes is not really feasible, makes me a believer in be able to use cursive.

However, you get more bang for your bucks using graphic representations. Thus, when it comes to note taking, perhaps Mihai Nadin was right.

Michelle Gallen said...

I blogged on the handwriting vs typing issue last July (check out Schools in Norway have been teaching kids to type first since at least 2002 - and they seem to be getting good results.

I'm all for teaching kids to type as early as possible and introducing handwriting at a later date.

But when it comes to typing exams I think we hit a problem - we all write at much the same speed - although people who write faster will perform better in exams, it is not a significant difference.

However, the difference between a typist who can hit 140 wpm and one who can barely manage 40wpm will result in a huge difference in output. I'm interested to see in how we can manage this issue in future exams!

Anonymous said...

this is great discussion. I have to admit I have not used cursive since high school, I have always printed. I am not sure which is faster for the writer, print or cursive. Handwriting is still an important skill. In mainstream corporate america you don't see people attending meetings with their laptops, they still use pad and pen to capture note from the meeting.

Anonymous said...

Wow! What an interesting debate. I consider myself (at age 40) to be an interesting test case of this debate. I learned to print first in kindergarten and then learned cursive from 2nd grade on. I wrote my essays in cursive and then had my mother type them up when I was in high school since I did not have the typing skills to do it myself. Similarly, there were only a few computers when I went to college, so composition was still typically done by writing out the essay in cursive and then typing it up. By the time I reached graduate school, computers were becoming more affordable and I began to compose right at the screen. It was an interesting transition at first and a challenge to break old habits. However, I now find after many years of composing at the screen that I prefer thinking and typing at the same time. I took a typing class as part of summer school and it has made all the difference in my computer typing skills.

Anecdotally, many of my friends that did not take typing classes while growing up typically used a "hunt and peck" method and it slowed down their composition and thinking considerably. Those that took typing courses were much more fluid in their composition at the computer. Interestingly enough, I still use cursive for personal communication such at thank you notes, Christmas cards, etc - but these occasions are becoming more and more rare.

To bring it back to Tony's original question, I believe that the most important skill today is proper keyboarding. Very little communication outside of personal letters, notes and thank you cards uses cursive anymore. The emphasis should be on keyboarding in order to facilitate the correct skills to compose at the computer. It is my belief that solid typing skills in which the eyes do not leave the screen is what really aids computer composition. If an individual's typing skills are not up to the task, too much brainpower is wasted on looking for keys and trying to correct mistakes. If you can compose using fluid typing skills, then the thought process is less interrupted. In addition, I love the non-linear capabilities of the computer. As my thoughts spring forth I can simply type them out with out regard to order or transition since the computer allows me to then go back and move sentences and make changes instantly. What a change from edits and rewrites and "white out" from many years ago!

Just my two cents worth...

John Zurovchak

Paul said...

I would have to say I agree on the printing vs. cursive question. Personally, beyond aesthetics I do not see the need to write cursive regularly. My own writing has gravitated back toward printing, as poor as even that looks many times.

As for note taking reinforcing knowledge, I've never been a big note taker, but perhaps I should retry it. given the results DC cited.I am a huge proponent of using visuals, and try to use them as often as possible or appropriate in my work. I forget which study it was that I read recently that compared the retention rates of reading versus hearing versus seeing, and combinations thereof. Visuals scored highest for retention, with visuals plus audio scoring highest for mixed method retention. Many people here are probably familair with some of these studies already, but it is sometimes fascinating how visually oriented we still are given other modes of communication.

Anonymous said...

This is very interesting and I was really waffling on it because I do both. I keep a notebook and take notes all the time to make up for a not-so-good memory and information overload (in some bizarre hybrid of printing and cursive that I started in college. Miss Milbrand, my second-grade teacher, would be truly horrified by it!). But as an instructional designer I do a lot of writing at the keyboard. Then I changed my mind when I read John Zurovchak's comments. He is right - being able to type well, relatively fast and somewhat accurately, without looking at the keyboard is absolutely vital. Learning to print and at least learning the basics of cursive are important, but the typing skills are more important in my opinion. I will say when my nephew, who is 21 now, first got a checking account a couple of years ago, he had to ask my sister how to sign his name. She was completely baffled that he didn't know until she realized he learned cursive writing a long time ago and then never really had used it much since that time.

Maria Hlas

Rae Tanner said...

This is a great discussion, and in some way validates the approach I've taken with that laboratory otherwise known as my ten year old daughter. While the school's assumption is that all homework will be completed on paper, I've encouraged my gal to use her PC as a composition tool; now she thinks it's archaic to erase a penciled phrase rather than simply backspace to rephrase. I believe she's the only one in her class who emails her writing assignments to the teacher before she leaves for school...but overall, she's fairly balanced between scrawled and typed expression.

Anonymous said...

I recently sold my home so naturally had to sign a zillion pieces of paper. I actually screwed up my signature a couple of time because I rarely write my name in cursive.

Anonymous said...

Now that Tony has clarified the cursive vs. printing vs. typing debate, I have to agree with him. I myself only write in cursive as it takes me too long to print. However, my mother who is 80 years old was part of an educational experiment in the 1930's. She was only taught printing, no cursive. The only time it interfered with her life was during teaching training when she had to learn cursive to teach to grade schoolers (when she does write cursive, it looks like the cursive drill books). Since she went on to be a Kindergarten teacher, she has never used cursive again--she prints her signature and it is uniquely hers.

The only two arguments FOR teaching cursive would be 1)it is a traditional form of writing that if we loose it, we might have trouble reading old documents and 2) cursive is a faster form of writing. In this day and age, however, students could learn truncated language for note taking (e.g. IM speak). In terms of "loosing" cursive, this could be a skill taught in advanced study, either as a requisite to History, English, and/or Art curriculum, such as old English is currently required for English Majors.

To make this transition, however, there needs to be more work on how to teach touch typing to children (what is developmentally appropriate) and when to introduce it taking into consideration literacy skills. Also, there needs to be greater dissemination of information on the use of typing vs. handwritten pieces of writing.

Anonymous said...

I just came across this blog entry I wrote last summer when teaching a course on computer supported technology across the curriculum. While it does not address the cursive vs. print debate, it does bring up other aspects of writing we should be including in our curriculum (including hypertext and visual rhetoric--communicating your message with graphics).

my blog

Paul said...

Maria Hlas's comment made me chuckle in agreement. When I say I print, it's really the same sort of hybrid cursive-print style that Maria finds herself writing out. I'm not sure about her, but in my case it ends up being mostly modern script art that only I can understand. It's not terribly elegant in execution or pretty.

In short, my handwriting is terrible. I could see where consistent reintegration of hand-eye coordination activities would help bring that writing sense back, but then I never was terribly comfortable writing even when I practiced it daily.

When it comes to reading, I can read cursive perfectly fine unless it's someone else's signature. ;) I can see how the loss of understanding of this particular art could harm society in the ways mentioned. I think it would still be a long while before cursive was completely forgotten though.

Anonymous said...

Good discussion. It's interesting that the focus is on pen/paper and typing. However, I wonder if that will change as the tablet/touch capabilities become more popular with PCs.

I know that I use my tabletPC quite a bit and that the recognition is much better when it's cursive versus print.

To me cursive seems more natural when writing on my tablet. What I find is that I have been focusing on better cursive writing to make my tabletPC time more efficient.

While I am somewhat ambivalent about cursive being taught in school, one thing that does concern me is that sometimes we're quick to dismiss teaching children disciplined tasks in lieu of what's pragmatic.

Donald Clark said...

Hi Tom,

Those are some very interesting thoughts. The school system I was in (ages ago) taught typing as an elective as no one knew at that time the impact computers, with keyboards as the primary input device, would have in the at this point in time.

So now we have to consider if keyboards will indeed be the primary input devices of the future? For all we know it could be a tablet device as you described. Do we second guess today's disciplined tasks in order to teach what's pragmatic by today's standards?

Like you, I also value my cursive skill because it is so much faster and natural than printing when one has to use paper and pencil. I don't use a tablet yet, but if I did, I would much prefer being able to write than print.

Anonymous said...

And if Dragon Speak or other programs ever really do work with all applications, and if retinal scans or other bio identificaiton technology kicks in then there will be no need to write anything ever again...

(and not RSI either...)

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see the consensus seems to be that cursive today should become the Latin of yesterday: once taught extensively in our schools, but now looked back on as irrelevant (but quaint).

As Tony implied, we should focus on writing as "the formation of content" and not "the physical manner in which you put that content on a piece of paper."

Many kids these days have such horrible writing skills, it's a real shame to think of all the time wasted in teaching them how to make their horrible writing look pretty on paper with fancy handwriting.

Tony Karrer said...

A couple years ago, there were predictions that students now would not learn typing because speech as an input would make it not needed.

It seems that we stretched a bit on that one and speech still lags typing by quite a bit. However, if we taught young people how to speak into the computer from a young age, I bet they could do it much better than all of us. Have you ever seen a child using NintenDogz? They work very hard to get their commands recognized.

That said, I predict that speech as an input will be relatively short lived. We are going to have direct from brain input into computers in a relatively modest 20-25 years. They already do it with paralyzed individuals by attaching to the areas of the brain that control those motor functions. Extending that to touch other areas of the brain so that we can be "one with our machine" to output from our brain to the machine is not that hard. Extending that so that we can access directly without having to read is a bit farther off.

This will be raising a whole lot of questions about who gets the implants. And is that fair?

Once we get to the point of machine as extended memory - it's going to make "learning" rather interesting.

All of this makes discussion of Cursive rather quaint. Cursive = Punch Cards?

Anonymous said...

Apparently there is already a man who has himself hardwired to connect to his system, but I can't find any hard and fast data on it. I know I didn't make it up, though, because other people have mentioned it, too. He's a researcher and has done it as part of his researh project.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if this is the story I was thinking of, but it's interesting anyway!

Anonymous said...

I worked as a high school teacher and they were doing away with cursive writing in our Elementary System. It will soon become a lost art, but why take the time to learn cursive now?

In the digital age, we have other tools for communication. I think it was a bit personal for me though when I found out because I think cursive is much more aestetically pleasing than print. That is just my personal opinion though.

I don't think any lives will be lost by losing cursive.

Anonymous said...

This is actuall a great debate. There is no question about learning to type well and learning touch typing at a very early age can only make life easier for the children. On the other hand not everything can be just typed even in the future. People will have to take notes on paper, and if that is done with a bad handwriting then it is not going to help. So, there is a need to learn cursive writing as well. But the emphasis should be more on teaching the touch typing rather than teaching to write well with pencil.

KateGladstone said...

As a handwriting instruction/remediation specialist, I agree on cursive writing's numerous disadvantages. Research shows that the fastest, most legible handwriters combine the best elements of cursive with the best elements of printing: they tend to employ only the easiest joins (skipping the rest) and to use print-style shapes for those letters whose printed and cursive forms "disagree."

Please see my web-site at and/or my YouTube video at

Tony Karrer said...

Kate - I take it you believe it should be taught?

KateGladstone said...

Whether I believe that "it should be taught" depends on whether "it" refers to cursive writing or to that very different thing, maximally efficient (fastest and most legible) writing.

If you didn't gather this much from my posting, then I take it you didn't visit my web-site. You can still reach it at the address I previously gave, but it now has a new, more easily remembered address too:
http://www.HandwritingThatWorks .

Tony Karrer said...

Kate - good point. People should be taught how to do fast, legible writing. However, there's a cost of teaching anything - it's opportunity cost. You have to displace teaching something else. So, it's a balance. The choice here is spending time on teaching alternative writing forms vs. teaching touch typing.

I guess we know where you stand.

Anonymous said...

Hey guys and girls. They need to eliminate cursive writing all together and adopt cursive italic. Reason: they teach kids how to print, then cursive, the F and Z you can hardly recognize due to curlie ques etc. But once an adult most end up with a type of cursive italic. When I went back to graduate school I had to learn how to write all over. If it wasn't for this book I would not have made it. It's called WRITE NOW by Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay, Continuing Education Press. It is the best book ever. I'm really suprised educators still insist on teaching cursive. They need to teach printing, then cursive italic! End of story. And touch typing before high school!

Anonymous said...

I have more info. They must end Palmer and Zaner writing styles. They are horrible. Kids spend too much time trying to figure how to make characters instead of forming words and sentences. Cursive italic is the only writing style that should be taught. Kid will breeze through and have no problems. Gosh, now I know why it too me so long to learn how to write. Palmer style held me back. See my post above for book on learning how to write with cursive italic.

Tony Karrer said...

That's a good suggestion, but I'm not sure I buy that spending as much time as they do teaching cursive in 4th grade makes much sense.

Anonymous said...

I am as perplexed as you why many schools do not see the need for students to learn how to touch-type. In my daughter's school, they spent time learning cursive and then were not required to use it except for limited projects. Are they expected to type their reports, though? YES...without learning how to type beforehand.

I am a business teacher who has taught keyboarding in Grades 9-12 for many years and who taught keyboarding in Grades 3 & 4 for two years. Our school did not want to have to hire an extra teacher, so when a high school business teacher resigned, I was moved back to the high school and the keyboarding program was dissolved.

My daughter is now in fifth grade in the same school district as I teach. It drives me crazy that the administration does not value proper keyboarding skills. In fact, our superintendent deleted keyboarding in Grades 9-12 WITHOUT placing it anywhere else in the district. He believes students do not need to spend a class period learning to "doink" on the keyboard.

We teach students how to properly hold a golf club, football, tennis racquet and such...however, we do not teach them a skill that they use everyday of their life. It amazes me that more people are not outraged by this. However, many believe that people can learn to type their own way and that is sufficient.


Curran said...

While I personally rarely do my hand writing in cursive (outside of applying my signature), I do a lot of handwriting. Kids should definitely learn to type as it is a very useful skill. On the other hand (no pun intended), studies have shown that handwriting has more advantages when it comes to learning for a number of reasons. One is that the motions of writing out the words allow for extra sense memories to be formed when trying to learn what you write. Also, since it generally takes longer than typing (unless you're a really slow typer), there's a temporal aspect in that the brain is forced to think about what one is writing for a little longer than typing.