The importance of note taking in online classes

Learning away from the physical classroom places a huge onus on the student to manage and regulate their own learning. Discover how good note taking can help.

Clock 3 min read Calendar Published: 4 Oct 2020
Author Luke Garbutt
The importance of note taking in online classes

Learning away from the physical classroom places a huge onus on the student to manage and regulate their own learning.

As one research paper put it, ‘students learning in online environments need to be highly self-regulated but unfortunately many are not’

So what needs to change? What role does note taking have in navigating this new challenge? And how can you best help students to cope with changing learning environments?

Studying remotely


As many learned the hard way this Spring, students are now responsible for making conscious efforts to stay engaged when they are not being observed and when the opportunities for distraction are greatly increased, all in what is probably an unfamiliar learning environment.

It’s enough to tax anyone’s self-discipline.

But by being flexible and adapting studying habits, this should become easier.

And right at the center is note taking.

Note taking: a misunderstood skill

In a study on college note taking habits, the authors discovered that only 49% of students surveyed took notes in their online classes. Of these, 67% believed note taking was unnecessary because all the information was available online.

This reveals something interesting about the online learner - they take less notes because they feel more confident that they won’t miss class content. In other words, a significant percentage of students believe that note taking is dispensable because it’s not needed to capture the information for later use.

But to believe that note taking is simply about capturing information is to disregard why it’s so important to the learning process.

And note taking’s importance hasn’t changed with the circumstances.

Note taking keeps you engaged

Critical to absorbing and encoding information is engagement. A passive, distracted student is less likely to commit lecture content to memory.

Active engagement, on the other hand, has been proven through numerous studies to enhance learning.

This makes note taking especially important. It requires alertness, active listening and real engagement with the content. It helps you anchor loose insights that might otherwise float away.

But note taking needs to adapt

Remote note taking should, instead of concentrating on capturing info, focus on the encoding function.

Just like preparing for assessments will change without access to a physical library, note taking during live classes should adapt to fit online delivery.

Creating short notes, highlighting pertinent points, and making these as easy to access, organize and reference as possible should become a priority.

This will ultimately help with information retention, as the concentration and active listening it requires will fire up cognitive processes that enhance learning.

And we believe we have the solution.

This is what we do

Making note taking easier and more accessible, while drawing out its true value, has been our goal since we launched as a company.

We know there are thousands of students out there that have been shut out from traditional note taking. It’s just as true now as it was when campuses were fully open. Whether from a lack of skills instruction, or from having a learning disability or mental illness that limits working memory, the pen-and-paper approach doesn’t work.

So we created Glean™ .

A new scaffold for remote note taking

Glean™ makes good note taking come naturally. And the system works for those used to independent note taking themselves, and for those who aren’t.

In a nutshell, Glean™ is a web-app that records audio, which a user can annotate with brief text notes or attach labels to mark moments for review. It’s all presented in a clear layout, and designed to be used comfortably after a couple of minutes of self-training.

In all, it’s a perfect scaffold for meaningful notes with minimal effort.

Here’s what students have made of it so far…

Watch video

We’ve taken the observations we’ve made from research, experience and speaking with students and institution staff, turning it into a note taking process that helps you anchor insights easily and accessibly.

And it works for online lectures

This Spring, we rolled out a new feature that enables users to record audio directly from their browser or video conferencing app. It allows the tool to be used much more easily in a remote setting, even when it’s a more collaborative session.

Give you students access for free

We’re now offering flexible free Glean™ trials so you can get your students using smart note taking tech at a time that suits you.

It could be the difference between no notes and great notes for remote learners at your institution. Come and take a closer look:

Further reading:

  • ‘Note taking habits of 21st Century college students: implications for student learning, memory, and achievement’ in Memory (2019), by Kayla Morehead et al

  • ‘Effects of online note taking formats and self-monitoring prompts on learning from online text: Using technology to enhance self-regulated learning’ in Contemporary Educational Psychology 36 (2011), by Douglas F Kauffman et al


Written by Luke Garbutt

Author Bio


Time for a simpler, smarter note taking accommodation?

Time for a simpler, smarter note taking accommodation?

Glean is the online note taking tool that makes compliance simple, reduces cost and admin burden, and improves student outcomes.
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