George Lucas Educational Foundation
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I vividly remember how I first learned to take notes. My sixth grade geography teacher lectured in outline style: "Roman Numeral one - China. A - Qin Dynasty. 1 - Rulers . . . " We wrote down precisely what he said, and to this day, I still take notes in outline form. However, consider Sunni Brown's TED Talk, "Doodlers Unite." She argues that engaging in sketching while listening to complex ideas further supports learning.


While outlining may work for me, what about those who value taking notes in the margins? How about students who may benefit from audio feedback? What about text-to-speech? Photos? Doodles?

When students learn to hand-write their notes, they focus on content and organization within a single medium -- paper. They can write in outline form, create concept maps, or use their own personalized system to support their acquisition of knowledge. But what about the students who struggle to write or prefer to type? For them, paper becomes an inhibitor. With iPads, the potential exists to leverage these same visual, auditory and kinesthetic processes with multiple media in order to help students make even deeper connections.

Cameras and Microphones


One of the most valuable features of iPad to support note-taking may be the camera. Students might take pictures of the whiteboard during class discussion and then add them to their personal notes. Others may choose to handwrite during class, take a picture of their paper, and then type additional notes to solidify their understanding.

In addition to incorporating photos, many note-taking apps also include audio recording. Imagine the power of supporting a student who struggles with written output by allowing him to quickly record his thoughts, in his own voice, and connect those ideas to the content. The camera and microphone have the potential of empowering students to focus on the task of learning rather than the job of capturing information on paper.

Typing and Drawing

We experienced an influx of "laptop kids" in our middle school. These were students with evaluations indicating that a laptop would support note-taking. However, after the first few weeks, these same students often stopped bringing their computers to school. Despite having spell check, a dictionary and legible text, the type-driven structure of a word processing program created a new layer of issues rather than supports. Because the technology eliminated the ability to handwrite and draw, it put my students at a further disadvantage rather than supporting their learning.

With iPad, these same students could both type and draw their notes. Whether using Penultimate combined with Evernote, PaperPort Notes (which also includes speech-to-text) or Notability, the potential exists to type and draw simultaneously as well as include photos and audio. Consider the impact on the note-taking process when a student could take a picture of a paper note-taking guide and then type, draw or speak on top if it. Suddenly, students have the opportunity to choose the medium that best fits their learning style.

Supporting the Process


In a recent workshop, one of my participants -- Cynthia McClelland (@CynMcCl), an eighth grade social studies teacher in a 1:1 iPad program -- explained how she addresses note-taking in her class. First, she encourages the students to take notes on paper. Then, she asks them to type a summary of their notes in Evernote and include a picture of their hand-written work. Finally, students add their notes to a shared notebook so that she can review them.

However, iPads could also bolster the first step in her process. What if, during the process of reviewing her students' notes in Evernote, she discovers that some of her students consistently miss important points or don't seem to include enough detail? With either AudioNote or SoundNote, she could document their note-taking process in real-time, within the context of the class, and then work to support the development of specific skills.


Both of these apps sync audio recording with what is typed or drawn on screen. (You can test this out using the free AudioNote Lite.) Tapping on a word or part of a drawing jumps the audio recording to the relevant position in the track. These apps provide the capability to review exactly what a student writes down while playing back the audio. iPad literally highlights whether or not the salient points were recorded.

More Than One Solution

One of my former colleagues would write all key concepts on the board before the start of her French class. She asked her students to transcribe the notes into their notebooks during the first few minutes of each period so that they could focus on listening and speaking rather than writing once she started the lesson. Across the hall, another colleague asked his history students to come with a three-ring binder. Each day, as they entered the room, he provided a new note-taking guide for them to annotate. Next door, our English teacher leveraged active reading strategies and note-taking directly in a text. When I describe this scenario to other middle school teachers, they regularly nod in agreement as they reflect on their own practices.

Much like teachers choose a teaching process that best suits their content area, students need to identify the app, or features of an app, that best supports their learning. Some students might enjoy the freedom of being able to actively listen and then take photos for later reference. Others might furiously type each word, and for some students, paper may be the most effective note-taking tool. The beauty of note-taking with iPad is its impact on all learners.

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Beth Holland's picture
Beth Holland
Johns Hopkins University Doctoral Candidate & EdTechTeacher Instructor

Hi Mara.

Personally, I think the real power of iPads is in how they can be used as creation and curation tools rather than just for consumption or gaming. I wrote a post about using iPads for journals and portfolios about a year ago that may be of interest -

As far as ideas for primary students, there are hundreds! I'd recommend taking a look at some of these educators. They are doing amazing things in their elementary classrooms.

I hope that helps!

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

We ran into a really interesting issue recently. Kids in the high school have received keyboarding instruction, but not a lot of cursive instructionwhen they were in elementary school, nor were they encouraged to practice, and many just print. As a result, they are unable to keep up with writing the notes that previous classes of students were able to- printing is just slower, and the quality of their notes suffers, as well as the speed at which the teachers teach... the problem compounds itself over time. Lack of fluency means less ability to listen and write simultaneously... and you hit a wall at which it all breaks down.
I'm not sure the answer in this case is always going to be a technological one, until we get kids fully fluent in writing whether by keybord or by hand. apps like evernote, classmint, audionote, etc are fine, but it does take longer to relisten to parts of a lecture than read over your notes...
Any idea on how to approach this problem? Other than asking elementary schools to consider this and consider spending more time they do not feel they have going back to cursive and teaching keyboarding in the earlier grades- and even if we put that plan in place today, what do we do about the next 12 years of kids who don't have this skill and it's effecting their ability to write and communicate?

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Edcamper, Former @Edutopia, Founder of Social Media Marketing Consultancy aimed at helping educational orgs.

Came across this interesting article about the difference between digital and traditional paper note-taking:

Actually Whitney Hoffman, who commented above, tweeted it to us :)

It's an interesting study and spoiler alert -- here's what it said:

"The findings, which Mueller and Oppenheimer describe in a forthcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science, were a bit surprising. Those who took notes in longhand, and were able to study, did significantly better than any of the other students in the experiment -- better even than the fleet typists who had basically transcribed the lectures. That is, they took fewer notes overall with less verbatim recording, but they nevertheless did better on both factual learning and higher-order conceptual learning. Taken together, these results suggest that longhand notes not only lead to higher quality learning in the first place; they are also a superior strategy for storing new learning for later study. Or, quite possibly, these two effects interact for greater academic performance overall."

Beth Holland's picture
Beth Holland
Johns Hopkins University Doctoral Candidate & EdTechTeacher Instructor

Hi Elana and Whitney.

I apologize for not responding sooner, but to be honest, I'm not quite sure what to say. The articles bring up amazing points that we should definitely address. There was a discussion on the Independent School list serve a while ago that asked "what are we preparing our students to do."

I think we all agree that students need to be able to actively listen and capture the relevant points in an efficient manner - that could be handwriting, typing, visual notes, etc. Maybe we need to ensure within our scope and sequence that we address how to identify the best system to meet our learners needs?

You both make excellent points, and I wish I had a better response.

Thank you for bringing it up!

Annawood's picture

Evernote is king of note taking app, but i know another amazing note taking app similar with EverNote which name is NotionNote. The amazing thing is that it is compatible with iOs nd Android devices.

Beth Holland's picture
Beth Holland
Johns Hopkins University Doctoral Candidate & EdTechTeacher Instructor

Hi Anna.

I love the Evernote + Penultimate combination. However, I think it also comes down to preference. Thanks for sharing NotionNote. I hadn't seen that one.


Andrewphillips's picture

Hi Beth,
Thank for your interesting article, it raises good points.
However, I think it lacks good apps for note-taking issues. In fact, for taking notes there are many apps that are just perfect (Evernote, Notability, Paper, etc...) but there are two main issues in the note-taking process: the note-taking in itself and the use you make of it. Your paper covers both issues and that's great, but unfortunately, most of the apps available for tablets doesn't address to the issue of the use of notes. Most of the apps consider that notes are just meant to be read. What I think is that tablets have a huge potential for notes managing. Why make such sophisticated apps for taking notes to, at the end, read them as it was paper notes?
I really think there is a great potential here. For example, in the management area there are apps that are trying to push further the concept of taking notes; there is Beesy for example which organize all the workflow and business routine (schedule, deadlines, meeting minutes, etc...) from the notes you take at meetings. It is an interesting concept that could be applied for students I think.
We're only at the beginning of the digital era...

Beth Holland's picture
Beth Holland
Johns Hopkins University Doctoral Candidate & EdTechTeacher Instructor

Hi Andrew.

This is really interesting. Could you elaborate on your point about "use of notes"? For example, I've been using Trello for project management and capturing notes specific to the projects, but don't necessarily consider that a "note taking tool." Is that more what you are referring to?

I am really intrigued by your point that we are still applying paper-based thinking to notes with regard to how we read them after we take them. I guess that ties back to the larger question of why take notes anyways... If the purpose of the task is to capture content knowledge, then I guess the next question is what to do with it?

Thanks for prompting me to think in a different direction. I'm interested in continuing the conversation.


Andrewphillips's picture

Hi Beth,
Thanks for giving attention to my reaction.
The point I was raising is that note taking on tablet has a great potential that most of the note-taking app doesn't use. What I see is that finally, note-taking app are "just" beautifully designed tactile word processor. Of course there is the sync feature, which is good but doesn't go beyond note storage logic. In fact, note taking, both on paper and iPad, is still about a linear collect of info. Naturally, iPad allows including medias to notes, to tag it and to store it in the cloud to retrieve them wherever you are, etc. But at the end, it's always restrained in a traditional way of thinking notes: I write note and I store it to use later. I think the iPad allows us to go further this paradigm but few apps are doing so. There are Audinote or SoundNote that are exploring new ways of using notes. This could be for me a beginning of "going further", however it still remains limited in the old scheme that "notes are made to be consulted".
The thing is, this way of taking notes doesn't integrate them in a management rationale (professional or professional). The fact that you still have to treat the info after collecting it enables only little productivity gains.
I'm interested in having your opinion on this point.

For example, my work is mostly based on meetings. It's at meetings where I can express myself about the current projects and where we define actions to take. My problem is that almost all the information I hear or say at meetings are important and has to be collected in some way. Taking notes seems to be the right way to do it, but, like I said below, I always have to treat the info afterward.
I used to take notes of everything and then take a time to update my calendar, to-do lists, deadlines, etc. It was always a heavy process, made more or less handy by some project management apps. My projects being numerous, it was really frustrating to waste my time inputting in my project management tools the info I just collect from my notes. I was searching for a tool that could automate this heavy process. I even tried Trello for a moment but like you said, it's not a note taking tool.

In fact, there is a gap between the note taking process and the effective use of the notes you take. "Use" being, for me, how you extract value from the notes you took.
The only app I found that manage to fill that gap is the Beesy one. It's more like a productivity app, like Trello in someway, but it includes a note taking tool which is actually the core of all the app. It's a dynamic approach of note taking. Notes are taken by items (notes, diagrams, task, idea, questions, deadline, attachment, email, call, etc.) and at the same time you're writing , the app updates your calendar, to-do lists and projects. When you're finished taking notes, you don't have to set all your other management tools because it's already done.
Furthermore, it's an individual tool but it's also collaborative: you can sync with collaborators who have the app(or by email if not) and there is a "shared note" feature that allows different people to add his part to your notes, which is a unique feature on ipad app, it's like every participants write on the same notebook and have a real time update for the note.
I don't know for what kind of projects you use trello, and maybe beesy is the kind of app with an original concept that is perfect for some people but not suits to everyone, but what do you think about its concept?
If there is something you didn't understand you can go directly to their website to get more specific info:

Of course, I'm approaching the note taking issue from a professional perspective.
Then, in my opinion the traditional way of taking notes, whether on paper or on tablet, is still the best way to carefully learn something, capture knowledge. (though, for sure there are new ways of learning to be invented)
However, when you want to integrate your notes to your everyday life in order to be more productive, to get things done, I think tablets with appropriate apps are the best tools you can have.


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