Note-Taking Strategies for Online Students

 Note-Taking Strategies for Online Students

Online students receive a lot of information throughout their courses. Most is read on a computer screen because of the nature of the materials, which are typically downloadable versions of textbooks, along with articles obtained from Internet searches and online library databases. After reading through a few of these resources, it may become clear that a method of organizing your notes is necessary so that you have the most important information from your readings readily available for assignments and class discussions. Luckily, there are five note-taking strategies to choose from that will allow you to process, sort, and organize information in a way that’ll make it a useful reference tool when needed.

Note-taking has been proven to improve reading comprehension and increase retention of the information from 5% (without notes) to 34% (with notes) because it’s an active form of learning. These particular note-taking strategies will help you work with the information you’ve read and organize it in an effective manner, and as an added bonus, they work well with any subject and can be used in any format, including handwritten notes and notes typed in a computer document.

Cornell Strategy

The Cornell method is one of the most popular note-taking strategies because it allows you to develop an organized system of recording and reviewing information in an easy-to-use format. There are no disadvantages or challenges with this method because of its simple structure.

With the Cornell note-taking strategy, you begin by dividing up a page into three sections — two columns with a small row at the bottom. The right column is larger and designated for your initial notes. Choose sentences and phrases that you want to remember or utilize later for this section. As you record your notes, also indicate when a citation is required if you have utilized a direct quote or paraphrased information from your source. This is required any time you take notes and with any note-taking method.

The next step in the Cornell note-taking process is to make a left column, which should be smaller than the right. This section is used to record key points, terms, or any other cues that will help you to recall the information any time that you want to review it. The last step is development of a summary section at the bottom of the page, which can be used once you have finished reading and written your notes. Within this section, you’ll provide a wrap-up of what you’ve learned. 

Mapping Strategy

The mapping note-taking method is very useful for visual learners because of the use of shapes and diagrams. It is similar to a flowchart and the purpose of this strategy is to help you identify relationships between concepts, phrases, and key terms. Students who handwrite their notes for this method often use colors to make a distinction between different concepts. For students who use a Word document, there are shapes and SmartArt objects available that can be utilized to create the map.

The mapping method strategy begins by placing the main idea of what you’ve read in the center of a page. As you continue to read, add supporting terms, phrases, or concepts around it. You can use lines or arrows to link the supporting concepts to the main idea. The purpose of a concept map is to provide you with a visual representation of the relationships between information and ideas. This also becomes one of the primary challenges for use of this strategy – it is up to you to determine what those relationships are and to make an accurate assessment or connection between the concepts. 

Charting Strategy

The charting note-taking method is another visual approach to organizing information while you read. To begin this strategy, create one or more charts on a piece of paper and list key phrases or concepts within the heading section at the top of each chart. As you read the material, use the charts to record important phrases, terms, and ideas, and arrange that information according to the main concepts.

An advantage of this method is that once you have finished reading, you will have a format that is easy to review and it will help develop your thoughts as you write a paper or answer a discussion question. Another advantage of the charting note-taking strategy is that you do not need to write lengthy descriptions. The only disadvantage associated with this method is the time required to develop categories so that information is organized correctly.

Sentence Strategy

The sentence note-taking method consists of writing a list of sentences as you read through the material. Each sentence should be a main point or important concept. Number each sentence as you take notes so you have a way to distinguish the different concepts. Once you’re finished reading, rewrite your notes and organize the sentences into themes or categories. This will make it easier to review when you want to look at your notes again.

Students find that this strategy is typically more involved because of the time required to write, sort, and then rewrite the information. It is possible to complete only the first step of the process; however, doing so would not organize your notes in a manner that could be easily used later for a review.

Outline Strategy

The outline note-taking method is similar to the sentence method because each main idea or important concept is written on a new line. The primary difference between the outline method and the sentence method is that the outline strategy uses a more organized approach. Instead of randomly writing one sentence after another, sentences are grouped according to main points. The first sentence for each group should consist of a main concept. Any related terms, phrases, or ideas are written underneath that sentence.

The outline method is a very organized approach to note-taking because it allows you to view important concepts in an easy-to-read format. A disadvantage of this strategy is that it requires more time to complete than other methods; however, the information is organized as you read the materials and no rewriting is required once you are finished.

Online students are likely to find that the use of a note-taking method will reduce the challenge of reading a lot of materials because you can read and process the information quickly and efficiently. This will also improve your time management plan and reduce the potential anxiety that may occur while looking at a computer screen and trying to understand the meaning of what you’re reading.

By Dr. Bruce Johnson

Photo: © Andersen Ross/cultura/Corbis

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