Oct 6, 2022 NewsSchools

Learning-to-type research gets turbo-charged 

Avatar Image for Emily Williams

Dr. Emily Williams

University of Leeds - Research Fellow

Dr Emily Williams has been awarded an Early Career Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust, to investigate the building blocks required for children to learn to type. This project is a 3-year continuation and scale-up of 2 years of groundwork funded by the Wellcome Trust, which included designing an online touch-typing course for school pupils and several tests designed to tap into typing skill. Emily shares an update below – get in touch if you would like your school to be involved in the co-design process or participate in the study.


Children’s ability to learn new skills is linked to their educational attainment, socio-economic status, and physical and mental health. However, we don’t yet know the process of building a skill, the building blocks required, or the order in which they must be laid. 

With my current project, I’m interested in how people learn the skill of typing. I’m breaking down typing skill into different components or ‘sub-skills’ and I want to know two things. First, what makes fast typists fast – what tricks are they doing besides hitting the keys faster? Second, I want to observe how these sub-skills develop during learning. My list of possible sub-skills includes, for example, how many keypresses someone has already planned out (ahead of the current one), how much they have memorised the layout of the keyboard, whether they can overlap their key presses, and their general finger tapping speed.  

In my first study, I’ll measure typing skill and possible sub-skills in around 100,000 adult volunteers through a set of gamified online typing tests. I’ll be measuring some of the sub-skills through mini-games, such as how many times a person can tap a key in 15 seconds. I’ll then have data from the whole continuum of typing speeds, from painfully slow to painfully fast, and I can compare how important each sub-skill is to typing speed at different places on this continuum. For example, really slow typists may not know the keyboard layout as they likely have to search for keys, medium speed typists may have a good grasp on key locations, whereas fast typists may not have as they might be relying on muscle memory. 

In my second study, I’ll monitor how each of the sub-skills develops. To do this, I’ve drafted and piloted an online, self-paced touch-typing course for children, Turbo Typing. Over the next few months (Nov 22 – Jan 23), I will ‘co-design’ an evolution of this course by consulting teachers and pupils on the current version, focusing on things like its graphic design, test feedback, and whether to build in a points system. I will then recruit around 10 Bradford primary schools to have their pupils (around 1,000 in total) learn to touch-type using Turbo Typing over several weeks or months. This will take place within the 2023/24 academic year. 

I can then link this typing learning data with pupils’ cognitive ability, mental and physical health, and educational attainment to find out more about how skill acquisition relates to other developmental attributes that shape a person’s life. 

In the future, Turbo Typing could be developed to harness my findings about sub-skills so that, after a short assessment, each learner receives a tailor-made package of touch-typing modules according to their sub-skill profile. This could be particularly helpful for individuals with motor difficulties (e.g., developmental co-ordination disorder) so that they can practice the specific sub-skills that they find challenging, rather than simply practicing the activity of typing on the whole. 

Please get in touch if you’d like to be involved in this research: [email protected]. 

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