Tips 8 Tips for note taking on online courses and MOOCs

Remember better with these tips on taking notes

  • Overview
  • Discussion
  1. Carolyn
    A question that often arises about online courses is whether you need to take notes or not. The simple answer is yes! Whether you are studying a traditional classroom based course or studying online, the benefits of taking notes are the same. The results of a study into memory and recall by Ebbinghaus showed that people forget 42% of what they’ve learnt after 20 minutes and after six days you lose up to 77% of newly learnt skills and knowledge. It has also been proven that note taking improves your comprehension and retention. Researchers found that if you record important information in notes, you have a 34% chance of remembering that information as opposed to a 5% chance if you don’t take notes.

    The principles of note taking while studying an online course are the same as those for a traditional campus based course. With online content, however, students have the added advantage of being able to revisit course content as often as they feel necessary which means your note taking can be more efficient and organised. Nowadays, there are numerous online tools which allow you to take and organise notes digitally, some of which are very good, but it is still recommended to always take hand written notes on paper initially. Taking notes directly on your computer while watching a lecture video isn’t very practical, and there are very few online course platforms that have a built in note taking application. You can always organise your notes using an online tool once you have finished a course topic or module.

    8 Tips for note taking on online courses and MOOCs

    1. Be prepared before you start.

    Don’t just launch straight into a lecture video without knowing what topics and concepts will be covered. Most online courses have a course overview and more detailed syllabus that you can access before starting. Make time to study this so you can identify what points are important to note down when watching the video. You should also make sure you understand the meaning of the terms and concepts used in the course overview and syllabus before you start to avoid any unnecessary time-wasting.

    2. Be organised

    It is important to be organised with your note taking so that it is easy to refer back to your notes if you need to.

    - Clearly label a separate notebook for each course, and start a new page or section for each video lecture starting with the title of the lecture and where you can access the lecture again should you need to revisit it. Remember to date your notes and number the pages.

    - It is good practice to take notes on one side of the page only so that you can add comments and references to other relevant material on the other side of the page at a later date.

    - Create loose-leaf notebooks using ring binder folders which gives you the option to move things around and add other content as and when you want to. Dividers are a great way to quickly find notes on a particular topic or concept.

    3. Establish a note taking strategy and stick to it

    A note taking strategy is the method you use to take notes. Deciding on which one to use beforehand will help you organise the content you’re learning in a more meaningful and effective way. To view a list of known note taking systems that may help you, click here.

    4. Keep it brief and clear

    Online courses usually have video transcripts, so there is no point writing everything down. Use short phrases and key words that cover the essential information from the lecture, and try to use your own words as far as possible as this will help you understand the concepts better when you read over your notes.

    Decide on some shorthand symbols and abbreviations beforehand which will enable you to write notes faster. Make an index with what each one means that you can add to the beginning of the notebook in case you forget. Include a symbol for concepts that you do not fully understand, so you know you have to go over it again.

    5. Review your notes

    It is important to review your notes within one or two days of watching a lecture video as this will reduce the amount of information you will forget. Try to review them frequently if you can as this will aid the transfer of the information you have learnt from your short-term to your long-term memory, making it easier to remember.

    6. Make use of all online content

    Online courses are not just about video lectures. There are often many other sources of related material and information. Most online courses have transcripts of the lecture videos that you can access. Reading through the transcript allows you to revise the content and make additional notes or changes if required. You can also print off PDFs of important lecture slides and add these to your notebook for reference. If your online course has an associated discussion forum, you can gain additional views and insights from other people enrolled on the same course about an idea or concept that was covered in the course. Add any important or useful points to your notes.

    7. Write weekly summaries

    Writing a summary of the notes you have made over the previous week is a great way to develop ideas, synthesize concepts and consolidate your learning. Creating a blog page for example can be a very effective way of doing this, especially if you allow readers to comment and give feedback as this will enhance your learning. Publishing your summaries online will also make it easier to share your content with fellow students and also potential employers as a portfolio of the skills you have acquired.

    There are also a number of online note taking tools and apps that allow you to record and organise your notes digitally, with a variety of additional features such as tagging, bookmarking, sharing taking screenshots, uploading documents and more.

    8. Apply your learning

    You can use your notes for personal or professional purposes to help you apply what you’ve learnt in real terms. This can be especially effective if you are able to apply your new skills to your current work, for example. Your notes will help you determine what concepts can be used in specific situations, and you can then record examples of how you put the concepts into practice in the relevant places in your notebook. Being able to demonstrate in real-life terms what skills you have gained from a course will improve your employability.


    To summarise:

    Note taking for online courses is largely the same as for traditional classes with the added benefit of being able to review content whenever necessary. In either case, taking notes is an important part of learning and should be undertaken in an organised and efficient manner. Let yourself be guided by our note taking tips and you’ll find you’ll be better at remembering what you learn.


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