Monday, 10 December 2018

Typing, typing, typing

Average Typing Speed Per Minute
of All Levels (Winslow, 2014)
With my interest in digital competence, I have been looking for a measure of what typing/keyboarding speed is 'normal' for someone who is digitally competent, as opposed to someone who is considered a 'beginner'. Someone who is digitally competent will have developed unconscious, implicit keyboard skills, whereas a beginner has to push 'effortful' "explicit knowledge about the task into working memory and manipulat[e] it to support performance" (Snyder, Ashitaka, Shimada, Ulrich, & Logan, 2014, p. 162).

This idea of explicit knowledge is one of the reasons why material learned in short intensive sessions often does not stay with us: it is not rehearsed until it becomes an implicit, automatic skill. Unrehearsed explicit knowledge is vulnerable to fading (Snyder et al, 2014), while implicit knowledge stays with us. It converts into "automism", like riding a bike.

In today's world of work, keyboarding is a vital skill. Surveying 500 employers on the keyboarding skills which employers required their staff to have, Microsoft found that: a third of employers won't hire staff who can't touch type; over 40% say typing is a key work skill; almost 40% link typing speed to productivity; and 20% report that business performance relies on fast touch typing (Bush, 2 September 2014). Keyboarding is a key component of the cross-functional communication, integration, and presentation (CIP) skills required in today's workforce (Anderson & Gantz, 2016).

Not being able to keyboard forms a situational barrier for job seekers which not only makes people less employable, it also prevents them from progressing as quickly as they should in developing their levels of digital competence. Muller, citing Darkenwald and Merriam (1982), suggests that situational barriers are those "which relate to an individual’s life context at a particular time, for example, cost, lack of transport, lack of childcare, lack of time as well as geographical isolation" (2017, p. 45). Research with first year trainee teachers found the "relationship between the barrier of typing and beginners [in using ICT] was higher than expected [at 3%, or 9 research participants]. Students identified the barrier [as a] lack of experience" (Muller, 2017, p. 192). Muller notes that situational barriers could be unique to each person, and were often "not something that the [organisation] may have been able to address or even prevent" (2017, p. 190). The missing elements appear so fundamental to a 21st century life that no one asks if learners have competence in these areas: the possession of the skill is taken for granted.

As a result, people missing elementary functionality may not realise how much of a barrier it is to their future learning; and further, the organisation may not recognise that the situational barrier exists, nor have the expertise to address it appropriately in-house.

This becomes a problem in the workforce as there appear to be a growing number of organisations where employees are expected to have a typing speed over 50 corrected words per minute (cwpm). 50cwpm seems like a high bar to me, as professional typists cwpm rates appear to fall between 50 and 80cwpm, with an 'average' typist's rate of 41cwpm (Ratatype, 2014)*. My own typing speed is 51cwpm: I am faster than that, but my accuracy is rubbish so I drop wpm by having to correct. A lot.

Significantly below 50cwpm, and below the Ratatype 41cwpm already mentioned (2014), a study of automatic voice recognition software versus keyboarding (Karat, Halverson, Horn & Karat, 1999) suggested that knowledge workers employed by IBM averaged 32.5cwpm when transcribing, and 19cwpm when creating new copy. A non-peer reviewed study by Ostrach (2010), with a sample size of 4,000 entries from LiveChat's Typing Speed Test, suggests that the 'average' keyboarder sits at around 39cwpm. Research by Logan and Crump found that Vanderbilt University students had an average of 70wpm (uncorrected): a markedly different finding. Results from these four data sets range from the early 30s to the early 70s for an 'average' user's cwpm, which is very broad. 

However, it is not only the average cwpm rate which is difficult to determine. Accurate peer-reviewed beginner level data seems to also be difficult to find. To this point, the 'best' information I have found is an online table by Winslow (2018), which is the graphic accompanying this post. Winslow suggests that an adult beginner speed will be under 35wpm with an average typist between 36 and 45wpm, and a fast typist up to 80wpm (2014, and note the lack of correction factor - wpm, not cwpm). 

What is interesting about Winslow's data is that it is suggested that a data entry clerk needs between 60 and 80wpm (2014). In New Zealand, a keyboarding rate is usually not specified in clerical job descriptions. I have long though it should be included as employers expect it. 

It is interesting how diverse the research results appear. I will persevere with trying to find data about keyboarding rates, and write an update when I have more data.


* A note on the Ratatype data (2014) mentioned above: the data cited on their infographic is inadequately sourced, so may not be reliable. Further, as Ratatype have a free typing test on their site, much of the data used on their infographic may have been self-generated.

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