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Drawing inspiration: How we learn from doodling

Ever since I can remember I have been a doodler. I scribbled pictures during class, drew patterns while on the phone, and of course, wrote my name in hearts when I thought I met the one.

But I hadn’t given much thought to the profound impact doodling has on engagement and knowledge retention until a few weeks ago, when my colleague caught me in the act during an important meeting.

My face reddened, and I tried to play it off as taking notes. But my drawings eventually sparked a conversation about doodling, learning and everything in between.SumTotal Blog_Doodling and Learning

The doodle debate
Doodling has historically evoked negative connotations. So much so, that one definition is: “to waste (time) in aimless or foolish activity.” Ouch!

Business leaders and professors alike roll their eyes and complain when people doodle during meetings and lectures, claiming they are not paying attention. But why?

I have wracked my brain trying to pinpoint a specific time when doodling hindered my ability to learn, create and deliver. I couldn’t come up with a single instance.

So why is there such a stigma attached to it?

Doodling isn’t mindless
An astonishing amount of our world’s biggest technological, scientific and business breakthroughs are a direct result of doodles. Stanislaw Ulam created the Ulam spiral, an illustration and explanation of prime numbers, while doodling during a mathematics lecture. Steve Wozniak doodled his first illustrations of the Apple 1, which catalyzed innovation and change in both business and technology.

In fact, a 2009 study conducted by psychologist Jackie Andrade confirmed that people who doodle retain 29% more information on average. Doodling removes distraction and lets the brain focus, process information and come to deeper, more insightful realizations.

None of that sounds aimless or foolish.

Beyond that, Sunni Brown, author of The Doodle Revolution, has spearheaded a global campaign for visual literacy focused on convincing people and organizations to embrace the art of doodling. Her book offers excellent examples of how drawing helps people stay engaged, express ideas and retain information.

Remember: learning and retention are the end game
Given the amount of evidence illustrating the impact of doodling on learning, I am shocked it isn’t more widely talked about. Doodling, much like gamification, makes learning fun. It transforms the way people interpret and process information. It frees the mind to make different connections.

According to Gartner, learning via gamification changes behavior, helps develop skills and enables innovations. These same objectives seem to be applicable to doodling.

  1. Changes behavior – Doodling opens the mind to find patterns and connections that one would not normally see. It revolutionizes your way of thinking, representing and interpreting information.
  2. Develops skills – I’m not talking about artistic skills, although I’m sure they get better with practice too. What I am referring to is that doodling helps you process information in a looser, more-creative format and ultimately develop new ways to problem solve.
  3. Enables innovation – Doodling is a dynamic tool that helps spark innovation by allowing you to visualize and interpret challenges. You are able to map out problems in different ways to create new designs and ideas.

A lesson that could be learned
During your next meeting, lecture or class, I encourage you to start doodling. See how it impacts your knowledge retention or whether you can draw deeper conclusions and breakthrough your toughest problems. And if you feel bold enough, share your doodles with peers to see what you can continue to learn.

Remember, you don’t need to be an artist to reap the rewards of doodling. You just need a pen or pencil and some paper.

 

 

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