The digital transformation of note taking

Effectiveness of active learning with laptops, tablets and paper

A look at the three main note-taking options for students – typing on laptops, writing on tablets with a stylus, and using a simple pen and paper – reveals the key advantages and challenges of each to support the active learning.

Laptop : Typing on a laptop is fast, notes are easy to share, and backups are available if notes are destroyed or lost. The downside of note taking on laptops is that students often type their notes mechanically, resulting in the lowest learning retention rate.

Numerical tablets : In response to the pandemic, more schools have provided tablets to students. Only California has made internet-connected tablets available almost a million students. Tablets are portable and easy to use, even for young children, and notes taken on the tablets can be saved and easily shared. Content organization and editing can be customized, and apps and programs are available to encourage creativity.

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Paper: This “technology” is how students have taken notes for centuries, so the methods and formats are deeply embedded in the education system. The effectiveness of writing notes on paper has been extensively researched and results show that this method provides high retention rates. Paper-based note taking is also inexpensive, portable, flexible, and less affected by distractions. On the other hand, paper notes are easily lost or damaged, content is difficult to edit and personalize, and the format cannot be embedded in digital assets or links.

5 Digital Note-Taking Strategies for Active Learners

The real benefit of any note-taking technology comes down to whether the tool engages students in active learning. Note taking as a form of active learning encourages students to pay attention by watching, listening, or reading content, and then actively processing the information. Students use their notes to make information their own, regardless of how the information takes shape – through words, pictures, graphs, diagrams, annotations or other methods.

Technology has expanded the limits of note-taking tools while retaining their learning benefits. For example, using styluses on tablets and Chromebooks adds new options for taking notes. Styluses also help students overcome some of the learning challenges they face when using these devices. Whether it’s passive note-taking on laptops, the difficulty of writing with fingers on tablets, or the tendency of paper to get lost or damaged, innovative tools bring new solutions.

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There are many ways for students to engage in active learning with the support of these tools.

1. Broaden the learning context: Using digital tools, students can simultaneously record a lecture, include links to presentation slides, and easily connect the dots between past and current lessons.

2. Copy visual cues: Visual cues can include charts, graphs and tables or an overview of the topic. When students annotate or draw these visual aids, they can better remember the emphasis placed on certain concepts and ideas.

3. Develop handwriting skills for active learning: Handwriting has been linked to reading readiness, better composition skills, and better academic achievement. For younger students in particular, note-taking tools like digital pens allow learners to develop and strengthen their handwriting and fine motor skills while interacting with technology.

4. Take advantage of breaks: When educators take breaks during direct instruction, students can review and rework their notes. During these breaks, students using digital tools can easily add, move, or edit sections of their notes.

5. Easily access information: Educators can help students take notes by providing handouts to follow during class. If digital note taking is encouraged in the classroom, these materials can be distributed digitally and easily opened on tablets. Students can write directly on the worksheet with a stylus, a process that has been shown to help students learn and retain information.

Digital note taking can create new learning opportunities for K-12 students, combining the benefits of hand-held note taking for active learning and integrating technology into the environment of today’s modern class. Digitally transformed note-taking strategies help educators learn essential writing skills, encourage active learning, and promote greater student achievement.

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