Center for Teaching, Learning & Engagement

@ Glendale Community College, Glendale, Arizona, USA

Are Your Online Students Tkng Gd Nts n Clss?

Did you have difficulty reading the title of this post? If not, then you might just be an experienced note taker. But guess what — Many of our students are not. And, according to a recent research study, students are even less likely to take notes in an online course. Should we be concerned?

Consider this evidence: I am an audiobook freak. I am currently training for a half marathon (a different kinda freak) and when I run, I pop some professional reading into my earbuds. (A freak trifecta?) I also commute to GCC an hour each way, and audiobooks are my company for the long ride from the 202 to the 10 to the 17.

And I read the best audiobooks! I gotta tell you about the one I’m reading now – it’s about . . . well . . . let me think how to summarize it . . . Spoiler alert: I can’t.

For me (and most mortals), taking notes is required to remember important concepts from my non-fiction audio files. In addition, notes help me organize my thoughts so I can more effectively bore others with unsolicited oral book reports. In short, without taking notes, the learning is not well consolidated in memory. Encoding and storage into long-term memory requires working with information in a different way beyond just listening, and notes are one way of doing just that.

But close your eyes and visualize your online students viewing your instructional videos. Now picture their surroundings. Are they in a car? Cooking dinner with a small child on one hip? Unfortunately, due to social media, we now know a fair amount of them take their schoolwork into the bathroom. Point being – multi-tasking students in online classes benefit from specific guidance on how to take notes and use them for learning.

In 2019, researchers from Kent State published the results from a comprehensive notetaking study in the journal Memory. In the study, students taking courses in both in-person and online modalities were asked about their notetaking habits. Whereas 96% of these students reported taking notes in their in-person classes, only 49% reported taking notes in their online courses. When asked why students did not take notes in online courses, 67% said since the lecture material was recorded, they did not believe taking notes was necessary.

This line of thinking misrepresents the purpose of notes as merely keeping a record. Simply reviewing a video a second time is similar to the relatively ineffective learning strategy of re-reading our notes. Deeper processing of notes occurs when we organize them into a framework and test ourselves on their contents over several study sessions.

The good news is we can explicitly teach our online students to take notes from lecture videos and use them to remember course material. In the aforementioned study, almost 60% of the students said they wished they had better notetaking skills. Only about half of the students in the study were taught notetaking skills in the past, and the majority of that instruction occurred in middle and high school. So, there is both a want and a need to teach notetaking at the college level as a learning strategy to our online students.

Do you already teach notetaking strategies in your online course? If so, we’d love to hear from you. Drop a line in the Comments section below, or email me at

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