Why is note-taking important?

Here, we explain why we’re campaigning for #NoteTakingNotNotes to improve student independence and learning

5 min readPublished: 17 Feb 2021

Here, we explain why we’re campaigning for #NoteTakingNotNotes to improve student independence and learning.

Providing students with notes is still the go-to note taking accommodation for many disability services departments. But we think that needs to change.

Why? Because note taking itself is hugely beneficial to learning.

In this piece, we want to explain why #NoteTakingNotNotes is the way to empower your students and build lifelong skills.

Give a man a fish...

The message behind our #NoteTakingNotNotes campaign centers on a familiar saying;

‘You give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.’

Providing students with notes is the equivalent of giving them fish, a short term fix. Enabling them to take notes themselves provides a long-term solution, that carries the benefits of the process of note taking along with it.

So what is it about the process of note taking that makes it more important than the product?

The Encoding Function

Alongside note-taking’s production of an external store of information for review, the actual act itself is beneficial for learning. The taking of notes can aid recall, even if the notes made aren’t reviewed afterwards, and this is defined as its ‘encoding’ function.

This has also been described by researchers as ‘The Generation Effect’. In comparing individuals that took their own notes versus those that received notes, it was found that generating one’s own notes was better for retaining information. And it models how we learn.

We compare this to the digestive system.

Ingestion vs. Digestion

In a way, we process information like food. Just like when we eat, when we take in new information we do more than simply ingest it. We need to allow the good stuff to be absorbed through an internal process. Our digestive system works because it makes use of what will nourish us but also filters out what won’t. And synthesizing information through note-taking does pretty much the same thing.

As we’re taking notes, we spot connections between what we know and what we’re hearing. In the act of noting this, we help to digest the information for later use.

Notes Aid Learning

So when it comes to studying, note taking is hugely important for learning the information in front of you, and it goes beyond simply having the information to review later.

The various functions of note-taking have been subject to numerous studies over the past few decades. One such influential work from 1989 investigates the ‘encoding-storage paradigm’, asking how useful both functions of note-taking are for learning lecture material.

What emerges is an analysis that emphasizes the importance of both encoding and storage.

In other words, taking notes has more benefits for learning than receiving notes.

They Help Us Reflect

So other than encoding and storage, why else might taking notes be important? They’re made and used in all manner of contexts, and not every note has the same purpose.

Consider the personal diary or journal. It involves a type of note-taking that doesn’t fit neatly into either the encoding or storage functions, unless we wish to remember something from the day or to review our entries later. Rather, the diary is a tool of reflection - it can help us make emotional or rational sense of things that have happened, and provide an area where we can articulate our feelings and thoughts privately.

Perhaps after making an entry into our diary we come to a decision about a choice we’re facing. The act of noting our problem becomes a way of better understanding it and deciding what we’re going to do next. This is another function of note-taking that can fit alongside encoding and storage.

For learning, this act of reflection - working out our relationship with the information we’re presented with - can be just as important as the information itself.

#NoteTakingNotNotes

Our campaign for note taking independence is just getting started.

Over the coming weeks and months we’ll be hosting a series of free live webinars and publishing resources all about teaching your students to fish.

To learn more and get involved, follow the link below!