There are a few different options, let’s look at a the most popular and how you might use them digitally and on paper. It doesn’t matter what techniques you use, the main thing is that you:
If you’re interested in research around how we learn using online and analogue notetaking, this article is a great place to start:
Mueller, P. A. and Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014) ‘The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking’, Psychological Science, 25(6), pp. 1159–1168. doi: 10.1177/0956797614524581.
McKie, A. (2021) 'Writing lecture notes by hand 'creates deeper understanding,'' Times Higher Education, 17 February. Available at: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/writing-lecture-notes-hand-creates-deeper-understanding (Accessed: 17 February 2021). ( You can access THE by creating an account with your @cam.ac.uk email address.)
Whether you’re learning in a classroom or on the computer, handwritten notes have a lot of positives. Taking notes as you go, on post-its or in a notebook, means you can work wherever you are, including when you are offline; it also means you can dedicate your screen to online reading, if you find working in multiple panes difficult. There’s a lot of research that suggests that handwritten notes tend to be generative (mapping concepts, creating summaries) and support deeper learning. The downside of this form of note taking is that it’s difficult to search within your work and that you may find yourself typing up chunks of text as you prepare your assignments.
Notes taken digitally can be easily stored in the cloud and be readily accessed regardless of what computer or device you are using. One of the main benefits of taking notes in this way is that you can easily copy chunks of text from the paper or report you are reading to supplement your own notes. Your notes are easy to summarise, search and reuse when writing your assignments. Things to think about before taking this option include whether you will have a stable internet connection to access your notes, how you multitask with multiple panes on your desktop, and how scrupulous you can be when tracking your sources to ensure you don’t accidentally plagiarise an author.
This is an attractive approach, whether you are just starting on a new project or are having to work with handwritten notes from an earlier class. The key to success is utilising the strengths of both: the deep, generative learning from handwriting and the easy search and reuse capability of digital. A practical way to do this could be noting the key talking points in a lecture or article on paper, summarising what you’ve learned in an online document as well as any key quotes (with citations) you might want to use later. Keeping a research diary on paper as well as a reading checklist spreadsheet can you keep up to date with what you’ve read and whether you think it warrants further research.
This is a traditional technique that works particularly well with STEM subjects and business too. The page is split up into three areas:
This works well on paper and online, check online for templates and formatting ideas to do this in MS Word or even Excel. You can find out more about this technique, including video examples, here: http://lsc.cornell.edu/study-skills/cornell-note-taking-system/.
This technique of unpacking ideas across the page uses generative learning techniques to maximise active learning. You can use pen and paper or boxes and arrows in any online note taking software. Mind maps are great for expanding on ideas and showing relationships between them- colour is especially useful for this. A mind map can be used as a powerful revision tool alongside other notetaking techniques. The Open University has some helpful tips on mind mapping: https://help.open.ac.uk/mind-maps.