E-Student Logo

Become a Note-Taking Pro: Level Up Your Learning in Online Classes

Note-taking is an important skill for success in online classes. This article explores practical strategies and tools for note-taking to enhance your virtual learning experience.

E-student.org is supported by our community of learners. When you visit links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The bottom line
  • The online learning environment has changed the way we gather, understand, remember, create, and exchange information – as well as how we take notes.

  • There are challenges with note-taking in online classes that can impact the effectiveness of learning and the quality of notes – but also important advantages for the learner.

  • The digital nature of online education offers many options for note-taking, and choosing the suitable method is important.

In recent years, the educational landscape has been seeing a lot of changes, including the widespread adoption of online learning.  The convenience and flexibility offered by digital platforms have allowed more people to learn beyond the traditional school structure and geographical boundaries. 

The online learning environment changed the way we gather, understand, remember, create, and exchange information.  Some skills and strategies in studying also need to be updated to overcome challenges and maximize the advantages of learning online.

Note-taking is one of these essential skills that need to be adapted to the new digital learning environment.  This article will explore the differences in note-taking during online classes, the challenges students may face, the potential advantages, suitable note-taking methods, and practical tips for taking notes of online materials.

Table of Contents

How is Note-Taking Different in Online Classes?

Note-taking in online classes differs significantly from note-taking in traditional in-person learning environments. Several key factors contribute to the distinctions in note-taking between these two modes of learning:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

1. Digital Environment

In online learning, note-taking mostly occurs in a digital environment, often using devices such as laptops, tablets, or smartphones.  Though traditional pen-and-paper may still be used, many are also becoming more familiar with digital tools and applications for effective note organization.

The majority of online learners depend on digital devices and applications for swift note-taking and seamless organization of their notes
Most online learners rely on digital devices and applications for faster note-taking and seamless organization of their notes

2. Multimedia Integration

Online classes frequently incorporate multimedia elements such as video lectures, slideshows, and interactive content. Note-taking in this context involves capturing information from diverse formats, including text, images, and audio.

3. Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning

Online classes can be either synchronous, where students attend live sessions, or asynchronous, where recorded lectures or reading materials are accessed at the learner’s convenience. Synchronous classes may require real-time note-taking, while asynchronous classes offer the flexibility to pace note-taking according to individual preferences.

Challenges with Note-Taking in Online Classes

Note-taking during online classes may be challenging if not managed the right way

There are challenges with note-taking in online classes and this can impact the effectiveness of learning and the quality of notes.  Here are some of the common challenges:

1. Distractions

The digital nature of online classes can introduce distractions, ranging from notifications on electronic devices to the temptation of multitasking. Maintaining focus during online classes and staying dedicated to note-taking can be challenging.

2. Technical Issues

Online classes are susceptible to technical issues such as poor internet connectivity, software glitches, or hardware malfunctions.  These challenges can disrupt the flow of the class and make it difficult for students to take notes consistently.

3. Multimedia Overload

As mentioned earlier, many online classes combine multimedia elements. Managing information from these varied formats can be challenging, and students may struggle to synthesize and organize multimedia content effectively.

4. Limited Physical Interaction

Unlike traditional classrooms, online classes often lack face-to-face interactions between students and instructors. This absence of physical presence can impact the dynamics of discussions, questioning, and immediate feedback through verbal cues or body language.

5. Screen Fatigue

Extended periods of screen time during online classes can lead to screen fatigue. Students may experience eye strain and reduced concentration, affecting their ability to take detailed and accurate notes.

6. Organizational Issues

Digital notes can become disorganized without proper management. Students may struggle to locate specific information when needed, leading to inefficiencies in studying and reviewing notes.

Advantages of Note-Taking in Online Classes

While online learning presents challenges, it also provides opportunities for more versatile note-taking. Here are some advantages of taking notes in online classes:

1. Flexibility and Accessibility:

Online notes are easily accessible from various devices, allowing students to review course material at their convenience. This flexibility enables learning on the go, accommodating different schedules and learning preferences.

2. Multimedia Integration:

Note-taking in this context allows students to capture information from diverse formats, including images, diagrams, and audio, enhancing their understanding of complex topics.

The multimedia nature of online learning provides content in various formats to aid understanding of complex topics
The multimedia nature of online learning provides content in various formats to aid understanding of complex topics

3. Digital Organization:

Digital notes can be organized efficiently using folders, tags, and search functions. This makes it easier for students to categorize and retrieve specific information, promoting a more organized and systematic approach to studying.

4. Collaborative Note-Taking

Online classes may encourage collaborative note-taking through shared documents or discussion platforms.  This collaborative approach allows students to exchange diverse perspectives, filling gaps in individual notes and creating a more comprehensive set of study materials.

5. Real-time Updates and Revisions

Digital notes can be updated in real time, allowing students to easily revise and add information as the course progresses. This adaptability ensures that notes remain current and accurate, reflecting changes or additional insights gained over the duration of the online class.

6. Integration of External Resources

Online note-taking allows for easy integration of external resources such as hyperlinks, articles, or supplementary materials. This enriches the depth of notes and provides students with additional resources for further exploration and understanding.

7. Effective Review of Materials

The digital format enables efficient review of notes. Students can quickly navigate through their notes, focus on key points, and use various tools for annotations and highlighting, streamlining the review process.

8. Environmental Impact

Digital note-taking reduces the need for paper and physical resources, contributing to a more environmentally friendly approach. This aligns with the broader trend toward sustainable practices in education.

9. Adaptation to Different Learning Styles

Online note-taking tools offer diverse features, catering to various learning styles. Visual learners may benefit from incorporating images and diagrams, while auditory learners can make use of audio recordings or transcriptions.

10. Integration with Learning Management Systems (LMS)

Many online courses use Learning Management Systems that integrate seamlessly with note-taking apps. This integration facilitates a cohesive learning experience by providing centralized access to course content, assignments, and notes.

Note-Taking Methods for Online Classes

The digital nature of online education offers many options for note-taking.  Selecting a method that aligns with personal learning style and the specific requirements of the courses can enhance the note-taking experience. Here are some suitable note-taking methods for online classes:

1. Cornell Method

The Cornell Method is a systematic approach that involves dividing the notes into three sections: a narrow left column for cues or questions, a wider right column for main ideas and details, and a summary section at the bottom. This method is suitable for organizing information from online lectures and discussions.

The Cornell Method is well-suited for taking live lecture notes and engaging in discussions
The Cornell Method is suitable for live lecture notes and discussions

2. Outline Method

The Outline Method involves creating a hierarchical structure of main topics and subpoints. This method is well-suited for capturing the structure of online lectures – breaking down complex concepts into more manageable components.

3. Mind Mapping and Concept Mapping

Mind Mapping and Concept Mapping are visual methods that involve creating diagrams to represent connections between ideas. These methods are effective for understanding relationships between concepts and can be particularly useful for courses with visual or conceptual content.

Visual note-taking methods are particularly useful for online classes and are made easier with digital note-taking apps
Visual note-taking methods are useful for online classes and easier with digital note-taking apps

4. Flow Method

The Flow Method is a free-form approach where notes are taken in a continuous flow, capturing information as it is presented. The concepts and ideas are illustrated with arrows and lines showing how they relate to each other. This can be used live during lectures in order to actively engage with the discussion or after the lecture to revisit the concepts studied.

5. Bullet Journaling

Bullet Journaling involves using bullet points, symbols, and short phrases to capture key points quickly. This method is concise and well-suited for online classes with fast-paced information delivery.

6. Digital Highlighting and Annotation

If copies of lecture slides or reading materials are provided in advance, highlighting and annotating the digital document may be effective.  PDF readers or note-taking apps have digital highlighting and annotation features to allow for personal insights, comments, emphasis, and organization to be added to the presented content.

With features found in PDF readers or note-taking apps, you can easily highlight or add notes directly onto lecture slides or reading materials for your class
With the features of PDF readers or note-taking apps, you can highlight or add notes on the lecture slides or reading materials for the class. (Photo by kaboompics.com)

7. Audio Recording

In addition to traditional note-taking methods, consider recording the audio during online lectures. This allows the student to revisit the material and capture nuances that may be missed during live note-taking.

8. Tagging and Categorization

Tagging and categorization features in note-taking apps can be used to organize and label notes systematically. This helps streamline the retrieval of information during review sessions.

Practical Tips for Note-Taking in an Online Class

Taking effective notes in an online class requires a strategic approach to maximize the advantages and overcome the challenges. Here are some practical tips:

1. Prepare the Digital Workspace

Set up a dedicated and organized digital workspace for note-taking. Ensure that devices are charged, the note-taking app is open, and any required materials are easily accessible before the online class begins.

Maintaining a dedicated and organized study space can significantly improve focus and enhance the overall learning experience
Having a dedicated and organized study space can enhance focus and provide a better learning experience

2. Choose the Right Note-Taking Tool

Explore and choose a note-taking tool that suits learning preferences and provides the features needed. Popular options include Obsidian, OneNote, Evernote, Google Keep, or even simple text editors.

3. Listen and Engage Actively

Actively engage with the class by listening attentively and participating in discussions. This will enhance understanding and provide valuable content for the notes.

Engaging actively as a learner can improve comprehension of lessons and streamline the note-taking process
Being an engaged and active learner can enhance understanding of lessons and make note-taking easier

4. Use Shortcuts and Hotkeys

Learn and use keyboard shortcuts or hotkeys for the chosen note-taking app. This can significantly speed up the note-taking process and allow the capturing of information more efficiently during live sessions.

5. Organize Notes Effectively

Establish a clear and consistent organizational structure for note-taking. Use headings, subheadings, bullet points, and numbering to create a hierarchy that reflects the structure of the content.

6. Utilize Multimedia Elements

Take advantage of the multimedia features of the note-taking app.  Incorporate screenshots, images, and hyperlinks to enhance and create a visually engaging set of notes.

7. Develop a System for Symbols and Abbreviations

Create a system of symbols and abbreviations to streamline note-taking. This can help jot down information quickly without compromising clarity.

8. Practice Summarization

Develop the skill of summarizing information. Condense key points and main ideas to create concise summaries that are easier to review during study sessions.

9. Regularly Review and Revise

After note-taking, review notes to reinforce understanding and identify areas that may need clarification. Update notes based on additional insights or changes in the course material.

10. Collaborate with Classmates

Engage in collaborative note-taking with classmates through shared documents or online platforms.  This can consolidate different perspectives and fill in gaps or missing information.

11. Create a System for Naming and Tagging

Establish a consistent naming and tagging system to facilitate easy retrieval of notes.  This becomes particularly important as the digital notes collection grows.

12. Seek Clarification Promptly

If there are questions or uncertainties about the material, seek clarification promptly. Use discussion forums, emails, or virtual office hours to communicate with instructors and classmates.

13. Backup Notes

Regularly backup the digital notes to prevent data loss. Cloud storage services or automatic syncing features in note-taking apps can help ensure that notes are safely preserved.

14. Minimize Distractions

Minimize distractions during online classes by silencing unnecessary notifications and crating a focused study environment. This helps maintain concentration and improves the quality of notes.

15. Embrace Adaptability

Be adaptable in the note-taking approach. Experiment with different methods and techniques to find what works best in the online learning environment.

Experiment with various methods and techniques for note-taking to discover what suits your personal learning style and course material best
Try different methods and techniques for note-taking to find what works best for your personal learning style and your course material


Note-taking in online classes requires a unique set of skills and strategies to overcome challenges and maximize the benefits of digital learning. By adapting proven note-taking methods, using technology, and staying actively engaged, students can create effective notes that enhance understanding and retention of online course material.