The Impact of Digital Devices vs. Pen(cil) and Paper on Primary School Students’ Writing Skills – a Research Review

In the light of the continuing digital revolution in education and learning in general, and in literacy instruction in particular, the purpose of this review is to assess the emerging literature on such digital writing tools as computers and tablets compared with traditional writing tools like pen(cil) and paper, on early writing outcomes among first writers. We limited our review to studies published in international peer-reviewed journals during the last decade, within different theoretical perspectives. We identified a relatively small number of studies that can be categorized, as qualitative studies applying a case study design or within-subject design, and as quantitative studies, either quasi-experimental or cohort studies.

These studies can be located within three research perspectives: 1) cognitive psychology, 2) neuroscience and learning and 3) socio-cultural theoretical perspective. While findings across the three perspectives were inconsistent, they were rather consistent within each perspective. While studies with a cognitive psychological and those with neuroscience and learning perspective point in favor of handwriting, studies with a socio-cultural perspective rather point in favor of digital writing. The studies that used a cognitive psychology and neuroscience and learning approach applied quasi-experimental or cohort designs, while studies based on a socio-cultural perspective mainly were qualitative. When analyzing the studies regarding methodological quality we found three flaws: small sample size (of quantitative studies); a lack of nesting effects; and inadequately controlling for experience for early writing. Facing an interdisciplinary research topic in rapid development, we provide some implications for further research, and suggestions in particular in terms of methodological challenges.

publication details

Title The Impact of Digital Devices vs. Pen(cil) and Paper on Primary School Students’ Writing Skills - a Research Review
Category Academic article
AuthorSabine Wollscheid
AuthorJørgen Sjaastad
AuthorCathrine Edelhard Tømte
publication year2016