Drawingmemory techniquesStudy strategies

The power of doodling

I doodled my way through university.

I drew thousands of pictures to help me learn and memorise legal concepts and psychological theories.

Believe it or not, it took courage to doodle in my lectures and tutorials.

Some students (generally those who took notes on their laptops) would smirk and make patronising comments about my visual notes.

Comments such as “What’s this? Are we back in primary school?”, “Ha! Look what she’s doing!” and “Oh, how cute.”

I didn’t really know what to say to these comments. I liked doodling. It helped me learn and memorise information. So I just said “It works for me!”

At the time, I wasn’t aware of any research studies to back my doodling approach.

But things are different now.

There are several research papers on the benefits of drawing to help students learn. I want to share one of these studies with you.

Research on the power of doodling

The study was called The Surprisingly Powerful Influence of Drawing on Memory.

The surprisingly powerful influence of drawing on memory

In this study, researchers from the University of Waterloo wanted to know if drawing pictures of information was a more effective way to memorise information than other study strategies (e.g. standard note-taking and visualising the information).

To answer this question, they conducted a series of experiments. In the first experiment, participants were presented with at least 30 simple words. They were shown one word at a time and then told to either write out the word or draw it as a picture.

What did they find?

When participants had to draw a picture of the word, it was easier to remember the word than when they had to write it out.

In another experiment, they found drawing pictures was also more effective in helping people memorise information than simply visualising the word or viewing a picture of the word.

The first few experiments in this study focused on remembering simple words, such as apple, shoe and pear. Pretty basic stuff. So as I was reading the research paper, I had a question in my mind . . .

Could drawing help people to learn more complex information?

As it turns out, the researchers had devised another experiment to find out! This time participants were given 20 terms and they were prompted to either draw a picture to illustrate the definition or write out the definition word for word.

What was the result from this experiment?

Again, the pictures were more powerful. Drawing pictures helped people to memorise the definitions more effectively than just writing them out word for word.

At this point, you may be thinking, “But what if some participants were more familiar with the terms than others?”

That’s a fair question to ask. So the researches invented fictitious terms to remove the influence of familiarity. And yet again, drawing pictures trumped writing out the definition.

The researchers stated:

“. . . these experiments suggest that using transcription as a note-taking method to retain newly learned information is not the most effective practice and that creating drawings of information is a viable and much more efficacious, mnemonic strategy.”

No artistic talent required

Here’s another finding that stood out to me . . .

Artistic ability did not correlate with memory performance.

Bad drawings are fine

This means bad or messy drawings were totally fine. They worked just as well as a pretty picture in terms of memory recall. The researchers concluded:

“This suggests that the benefit one can achieve from drawing during encoding applied regardless of one’s artistic talent.”

This is great news for those of us who can only handle drawing stick figures!

As Sunni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution states:

“Doodling requires no artistic talent, no expensive art supplies, no formal training, no “innate visualisation talent”. Doodling is easy; it is instinctive; it is universal.”

So go forth and use this fabulous technique!

Doodling delivers quick results

And here’s one final amazing finding from this study . . .

Drawing required no more than 4 seconds to provide benefit. 4 seconds!

To sum up

Doodling/drawing is a powerful strategy we should all have in our study toolbox. It’s a technique that can help you fast track your learning and memorise information. So sharpen your pencils, grab a piece of paper and start doodling today.

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