Strategies for Taking Effective Notes While Studying Online

alternative credit

Taking notes is an essential part of the learning process; however, adapting your note-taking skills to fit online courses can be a challenge. In this post, we'll go over some note-taking strategies to use while studying online.

Note-Taking Tips for Online Courses

Taking notes while attending class online can be a challenge, especially if you are used to taking them on your computer. It's not easy to toggle between your online course screen and a separate note-taking screen. However, taking notes shouldn't be frustrating; instead, it should be a simple task that helps students retain what they've just learned. Here are a few strategies to make note-taking for online courses a breeze.

Take Notes by Hand

Sure it's 'old fashioned,' but taking handwritten notes during your online course can eliminate a lot of unnecessary computer steps. For instance, you won't have to click back and forth between your class and your typing document. You won't need to pause videos or lectures you're streaming either. Simply pull out a pen and notebook and start writing.

Take notes with a pen and notebook.

Don't Write Everything Down

Research shows that students have a tendency to write everything down when taking notes during an online course. This is mainly due to the absence of textbooks, handouts and other materials normally provided in a traditional classroom. However, writing down as much as possible can actually hurt a student's ability to study. Too many notes can lead to information overload, limiting the amount of material a student is able to recall at a later time.

Take Notes While Reading

Many online courses primarily involve reading the material and watching lectures on your own. Experts suggest becoming an active reader in order to get the most out of the material and your notes. For example, take notes while reading the material, rather than reading or skimming through it and jotting down a few notes later. Mark what catches your eye as you read; if you don't understand something, leave a question mark in the margin and go back to it later.

Opt for Diagrams or Pictures

If you have a hard time finding the right words when taking notes, then try drawing pictures or diagrams. If the passage you're reading is about the anatomy of the human body, consider drawing a picture of the body and labeling it with short descriptions. Diagrams can also help you record concepts in a way that you're able to understand and grasp quickly when glancing back over your notes. If there is a diagram or picture in the material online, try saving it to your computer so you can print it out and add it to your notes later on.

Drawing can be a way to take notes.

Use Note-Taking Software

There are a variety of note-taking software programs available to help students take, store, share and retrieve notes from any place at any time. Even if you are taking your notes by hand, you might want to keyboard them later and store them in your computer. Here is a list of some of the top note-taking programs and applications.


Evernote is one of the more popular note-taking programs. This software must be purchased and can be used with Windows, MAC, Android or iOS devices. It is literally a catchall for your notes; be they handwritten or typed, it can store them. Features include support for image, audio and video storage; optical character recognition (OCR) for scanning papers, email integration, easy sharing, webpage bookmarking and more.

Microsoft OneNote

Microsoft OneNote is an easy to use program - and it's free! OneNote is actually part of Microsoft Office and built to interact with Word and Excel. It's also available as an app for Android or iOS phones and the Web. This program gives users the ability to take notes, draw images with a stylus, record audio notes and share notes with others.

Google Keep

Google Keep is Google's very own version of a note-taking application; it's available on the Web and through Android and iOS phones. This program is a cross between Evernote and OneNote, easy to use and entirely free. Google Keep works in conjunction with Google Drive and Google Documents, giving you access to other software when taking notes online. This program allows for image and text scanning and storage, note-taking and voice recording; it also allows you to store URLs for websites.


Simplenote is an easy-to-use, free program that is designed specifically for taking notes. As its name implies, it is a very basic program intended for text storage only. This is a great product for students to start with when looking to use an application to assist with note-taking. It is available for Windows, MAC, Android and iOS systems.

Take notes with a computer program.

Review Your Notes

At the end of the day, whether you take notes by hand, on a computer or through a phone application, it's a good idea to review your material right after the online course. The information you've just read, heard or watched will still be fresh in your mind, giving you the opportunity to make the most of your notes.

By Amanda Johnson
February 2017
alternative credit online college courses

Never miss an update