Note Taking

Note Taking Strategies for Online Classes – UoPeople

One of the most important skills we can develop as students and professionals, is our ability to take notes. There’s a lot of information that we read both in and out of school, that is very heavy and dense. Because of this, quality note taking is especially important.

Understanding why is pretty simple. We just can’t remember absolutely everything we read or learn about. So we leave little notes for our future selves to pick up and read later, as a way to smack ourselves on the forehead and go “Oh yeah, that’s how that works!”.

How do I get better?

We all understand why we should get good at note taking, but how do we do it? There are a ton of resources out there to help you capture the most relevant bits of data from lectures, seminars, and other presentations – many of which are very helpful. But I’m going to focus this article on one type of learning environment – online textual education. 

At UoPeople, there are no lectures. This means all information is obtained through reading articles and open source textbooks online. There are both pros and cons to this approach, but for the sake of this article, the biggest pro is that we don’t need to take fast, sloppy, unorganized notes out of fear of missing something our lecturer has to say.

So, let’s look at my note taking strategies for online classes.

My approach.

This is my personal approach to note taking, and it is by no means the only one. At the end of this article I’ll link to some resources to help give you more ideas. I also think it’s best to know more than one style of note taking. Some strategies work better with certain subjects than others – learning multiple strategies, is like filling a tool bag up with many tools to handle different tasks. Moving on…

Read assignment questions first.

Before you even begin to jot down one word on paper, or in your word editor, make sure you understand the questions in your assignment(s). These questions are going to be your guide in helping you dissect the most relevant information.

Specifically for students at University of the People, you should take note of the unit’s learning objectives. Answering the learning objectives for each unit in your own words should be your goal for every unit. Having the ability to summarize your ideas, and explain what you’ve learned is going to help you prepare for your final exam.

Combine note taking and reading strategies.

The most important part of good notes, is being able to quickly find information that you will need later. This means only focusing on the parts of your reading assignment that really matter, while sifting through the unneeded information.

To accomplish this, I use a reading strategy that is very similar to KWL, and the “5 W’s” (Who, What, Where, When and Why… and sometimes How).

My reading process looks like this;

  • Before reading:
    • Ask myself what I already know about the text.
    • Try to predict what the text is about.
    • Think about what I’m trying to learn by reading the text.
    • Skim the contents, headers, abstract, and summary to get an idea of what I’m about to read.
  • While I read:
    • Think about questions that I want to answer, looking to the “5 W’s”, and my assignment questions for a guide.
    • Think about how to answer the learning objectives.
    • Only read the first and last sentence of each paragraph, while reading the intro paragraph to each section in full.
  • When I finish reading:
    • Review the learning objectives, and assignment questions.
    • If I feel that I need to read in more detail, I go back and read the paragraphs that were skipped during my first pass.

That is a rough outline of my reading process, to find out more about reading strategies click here and here.

My notes.

The method of note taking I use is most similar to the Outlining Method which is described in detail here.

To summarize the strategy, you start with main points or questions on the left, with each sub-point indented underneath. Like this below;

What is Nuclear Energy?

    • Nuclear energy is created from a chain-reaction where nuclear fission takes place
      • Nuclear Fission is the splitting of an element or atom.
        • Uranium is an element that allows for nuclear fission to take place easily. There are 2 isotopes of uranium:
          • U-235 is synthetic but capable of creating more energy
          • U-238 is the natural form
        • When atoms are split through fission, there is a release of energy
      • Nuclear energy can be used to create atomic bombs, electricity, and propulsion.

That’s just a snippet of some notes I took for an assignment that required me to use a note taking strategy while reading on article on nuclear energy.

Since the assignment only required that we took notes, and didn’t ask any specific questions about the article, I had no real way of prioritizing information other than using the KWL and “5 W’s” method.

Here’s a copy of the actual notes I used for this assignment; UNIV 1001 unit 6 nuclear energy notes. A link to the reading is included at the top of my notes.

In a normal reading assignment I would have assignment questions, and learning objectives to help me narrow in on what’s important, thus my notes would be much more refined than the ones included above. But the file still gives an example of how my notes look when I’m done.

Lastly, start a reference list from the beginning.

Don’t forget the importance of referencing any ideas that you may use in your assignments! I didn’t have references included in my example above, because the notes were the assignment itself, and the article had no relevance to my course. With that said, in any other situation I would have created a section at the bottom of my note page for references.

I will always make a reference for each page I read from before I even start reading. This way, when I come across something I’d like to use in an assignment I just include an in-text citation, and the reference is already there. This makes it easy to just copy/paste my references into the final drafts later, saving me time, and saving my but from plagiarism!

Hope this helps!

If you have any suggestions to be added to this, or would like to see a more in-depth tutorial, let me know in the comment section below! I’m all ears for improving any of my entries 🙂



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Further Reading.

Think Literacy Reading Strategies:

Study Guides and Strategies:

CAL POLY Note Taking Systems:


Featured image attributed to Chung Ho Leung under Creative Commons.

3 thoughts on “Note Taking Strategies for Online Classes – UoPeople”

  1. Hey, thanks for the comment! Glad this article was of help to you. I often have to come back to this to remind myself how to be a more proficient student 🙂

  2. Hello! What you wrote was very interesting and useful! I was glad to read it. If it was taught in my old university, I would have been easier to learn.
    Thank you for this article!

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