11 Note-Taking Tips For The Digital Classroom

With less books, paper, and pencils and more laptops, smartphones, and tablets gracing our classrooms these days, it would be logical to say that the nature of note-taking in class has changed, too. Especially with digital tools such as Evernote, writing things down on paper seems less likely to be the #1 way of taking notes.

That said, does taking notes really help? Does the physical act of writing something down help you to remember it? What is the most effective way to take notes? How does all of this play into a more digitally based classroom? The handy infographic below takes a look at these questions and more – keep reading to find out some of the answers!

Note Taking in the Digital Classroom

  • Not surprising: humans forget things easily, especially as more time passes
  • Most can recall only about 10% of a lecture, but if you take notes, that figure comes closer to about 80%
  • Only about 65.5% of students take notes in class
  • The Cornell System of note taking provides a format for organizing and synthesizing class notes, and has proven effective for many students
  • Other systems of note taking that are widely popular and useful are the outline system and the flow based system
  • The most effective system will be different for each student and their learning style
  • When you are taking notes during a lecture, this enables your brain to help decipher what is important and what is not – this is much harder for the brain to do when you’re just listening
  • Writing with a pen and paper helps you to remember more, but typing notes allows you to have a greater quantity of notes
  • 38% of people prefer handwritten notes
  • 21% prefer typed notes
  • 40% prefer a combination of typed and handwritten notes

In the digital classroom then, the primary shift parallels blended learning: a mix of physical and electronic information that serves as a compromise between “old” and “new” learning. Recording pens, tablets, laptops, audio software, and social media make recording, reviewing, sharing, and storing these notes different than it was even 10 years ago. Via CourseHero!





  1. Sean O'Brien

    January 15, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Katie – I love this infographic. I feel so much better now because throughout my career, I’ve sat and written notes while talking to people on the phone, listening to webinars, and whatever else we do. I would always end up looking at that stack of notebooks and wonder what value I got from it because I could never find anything. Then I bought the LiveScribe SmartPen. If you use it, you can upload all of your notes into PDF’s. You can then click on your notes and listen to the recording at any point in your note taking because it also records the audio while you write. There’s definitely a learning curve, but it is a great solution for anyone that can invest the money and time into it.


  2. Jennifer Garner

    January 17, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    I would love to use this infographic in my classroom but the multiple shades of blue on blue are difficult to read for me – let alone a student who has any degree of visual impairment. Wish it could be made available in a version with higher contrast. (And more accessible for students with disability.)


    January 22, 2014 at 3:27 am


    Your infographic is a reasonably good roundup of strategies and tips, but I think you have missed out a few important aspects.

    First and foremost, there is a BIG difference between “note-taking” and “note-making”, to which the students should always focus more on the latter.

    “Note-taking” is just passive recording of information, whereby students are more likely to regurgitate upon recall.

    “Note-making” is a more active approach, whereby students take pains to express in their own words when making the notes, so that recall is easier and faster.

    For more effective “note-making”, students need to pay good attention in class, so as to understand the information learned from the teacher.

    The acid test of understanding is the ability to express in your own words.

    Next, students need to first grasp what constitutes “core material” and what constitute “elaborative material” from their respective subjects.

    These are often stated explicitly in the school as well as the examination syllabi.

    Why do students need to do this? This is because 80% of most examination questions come from “core material”.

    By the way, “core material” consists of key concepts, principles, theories, definitions, rules, appropriate nomenclature and terminologies.

    “Elaborative material” comprises examples, illustrations, and anecdotes and other supporting information.

    Depending on subject, related diagrams, graphs, maps, photographs and pictures can fall in either one.

    The next and last thing is for students to understand how each academic subject is thematically structured and textually organised.

    Let me highlight some examples.

    Mathematics is essentially “problem-solving based”. Hence, students need to do a lot of practice. Also, students need a good working understanding of mathematical equations, especially each variable and the inter-relationship between variables.

    Physics, Chemistry and Biology are basically “concept-based”. Hence, they are memory-dependent, which means students need to remember key concepts, principles, definitions, appropriate nomenclature and terminologies.

    These subjects also involve a fair amount of mathematical problem solving, in descending order. So, practice matters, too.

    Moreover, they are supplemented with mandatory lab experiments and field trips, and students need to understand and reconcile their observations with class lessons, and draw proper conclusions.

    Another important aspect of science subjects is that they involve “processes”, entailing sequential steps or stages. As such, students need to pay attention to, not only the “what” and “how”, but also to the “why” while learning them in class and/or from reading.

    In the case of Biology, the numerous “processes” are often organised in a hierarchical order, down to the cellular level. Diagrammatic-wise, they are quite intense for remembering and recall.

    To a large extent, Geography is also “concept based”, and so, it’s memory dependent, but interestingly, this subject is organised around five major “themes”:

    1) location (absolute and relational);
    2) place (physical and human characteristics);
    3) human-environment interaction (how landscape is shaped/adapted);
    4) movement of people, goods, and ideas;
    5) regions (formations and change).

    Interestingly, History also has its quirky characteristics. It’s essentially about causes and consequences or impacts – and, of course, lessons learned – of major historical events, which are always chronological in order.

    Besides these, the students also need to understand and remember the influential folks, their qualities and contributions, and more importantly, the vital dates involved.

    By comparison, Literature is totally different. It involves a lot of personal interpretation, in addition to a good working understanding of human experiences and emotional relationships between principal and minor characters, and their motivations and aspirations.

    When the segregation of core material from elaborative material and textual organisational patterns of each subject are deciphered and understood, note-making in each case becomes a breeze for students as they know what to watch out for and what to remember for fast recall.

    In a separate note, I will explain how best to use visual tools, graphic organisers and idea maps to navigate and make notes of each of these academic subjects, since as much as 90% of what we learnt in a lifetime come to us in the form of visual cues.

    • Virginia Morgan

      February 5, 2014 at 3:01 am

      Hi Say Keng Lee,
      I would love to hear more. I am interested in learning how a student might learn more effectively while making notes for an individual research paper- not while listening in class. Also, what visual tool would you recommend for cause and effect?

  4. Vuk Visnjic

    February 11, 2014 at 2:50 pm


    I’m doing some reaserch and I was wondering on which part of the world this researchwas done. Was it USA, Europe, …?

  5. Rachael @ heart4learning.com

    February 17, 2014 at 9:33 pm

    Good note taking skills is so important for academic success. It is really sad to see how many students do not take any notes because they have never been guided on tips and techniques of good note taking. With these learning statistics, it is clear that good note taking is so important for long term learning.