Why workbooks work?

Why do NCRQ provide old-fashioned workbooks – it’s 2018?!

At NCRQ, we spend a great deal of time developing our learning materials to ensure that they are of the very best standard – not just in the health and safety sector – but at the cutting edge of professional and technical education. That’s why NCRQ is the most popular route for health and safety professionals in the UK.

One question we regularly hear from our students is “why do we have a physical workbook?” This is generally followed by comments about it being bulky to carry around, and a desire to do some work on a morning commute to work.

Now, we at NCRQ are pretty technologically advanced, and could very easily generate a digital version of the workbooks (File > Save as > PDF), however the decision not to do this is very deliberate. So, we thought we would explain a bit more about the background to this decision so you can understand the method behind our apparent madness.

Writing boosts memory

Firstly, writing boosts memory. If you want to remember something, you need to write it down. But why can’t you write down your notes on a laptop or tablet? Surely this is just as good?

Well, luckily for us the cognitive psychologists of the world have completed several studies on handwritten notes for students so that they could see which was more effective – handwritten notes or digital notes.

In one study, researchers compared two groups of volunteers, both asked to learn an unfamiliar alphabet. The first group used the age-old method of pen and paper, and the second group used a keyboard. Results were calculated each week, and it was found that handwritten notes ruled the day – the pen and paper groups learned the alphabet better than the keyboard group.

So, why are handwritten notes better for you?

Handwritten notes engage more of the senses. The brain is more active, so the learning process is enhanced. This is actually part of an area of study called ‘haptics’. Researchers in this area are studying the way in which our minds and bodies interact in the learning process.

Handwriting is the ‘tactile’ or ‘kinaesthetic’ learning method in action – the more physically active you are, the more likely you are to remember the information well.

So educational exercise and physical exercise are not as different as you may think – the brain, like the body, needs to be worked and stretched in order to grow.

But I thought NCRQ qualifications are based more on understanding, not memorising?

This is quite correct – the skills that safety practitioners need in the workplace are the ability to understand, critically analyse, research and apply concepts, rather than simply learning things to recite in an exam. Another study illustrated that students who take notes on computers tend to just transcribe words directly from the source, rather than putting them in their own words.

Two groups of students were asked to record information, and were then tested for factual detail, their conceptual understanding of the material, and their ability to synthesise and generalise the information. In every case, the handwritten group performed significantly better than those with transcribed notes.

Taking handwritten notes allows for better encoding of the information, and leads to better performance. Because this is a slower process, those who handwrite are forced to interpret the information and put it in their own words, and as such are able to better understand the content.

The encoding of the information when writing handwritten notes also increases the retention in long-term memory, whereas typing on a computer allows for distractions (I’ll just check my email, BBC News, LinkedIn…), and impairs learning because there is shallower processing of the information.

Handwritten notes result in increased knowledge, retention and learning

They aren’t easier. They aren’t faster. They aren’t as legible. They can make your hand hurt. And your dog can eat them.

But you should take them anyway. Taking notes by hand forces the brain to engage in some heavy ‘mental lifting’, and these efforts foster comprehension and retention.

And that is why NCRQ provides only hard-copy workbooks for students. They work.

So close the computer, pull out the notebook (the one without a keyboard), and slowly but surely work the muscles of your brain into better shape. Your grades and career will thank you.

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