Note: This post has been incorporated into 10 Ways to Be a Better Learner – an essential read for the serious lifelong learner.
In this post, I briefly take up a topic I have touched on a number of times before: taking notes.
While most of us are accustomed to taking notes during formal classroom learning experiences, we often don’t do it well (or at all), particularly if (as is the case in most adult learning) we don’t expect to be tested. Moreover, it is a rare person who applies the note-taking discipline of the classroom to the less formal, yet often more vital, learning experiences he encounters informally as part of day-to-day life.
Establishing a consistent habit of writing things down can be very powerful. A significant body of research supports the idea that simply writing something down contributes greatly to the process of moving it into long-term memory. As Françoise Boch and Annie Piolat note in their helpful overview of research on note-taking,
. . .the result of taking notes is much more than the production of a passive “external” information store, as the note taking action itself is part of the memorization process and results in the creation of a form of “internal” storage. (Kiewra, 1987)
But the initial act of writing things down is only part of the equation, if you want to leverage the full power of note-taking. For full effectiveness, notes need to be:
As you can see, effective note-taking brings into play many concepts that we’ve already covered. Notes are not something simply to jot down and file away; they are to be returned to and actively mined over time.
There are a number of approaches to taking notes effectively, but one that has been broadly adopted is the Cornell method. The basic approach is to divide a page into three sections:
The Cornell method is designed to support the five-step process above: organize, review, re-state, reflect, and connect. While originally developed as a method for taking notes during college lectures, it works well for most situations in which you need to capture and process information effectively.
Notes are not something to simply jot down and file away; they are to be returned to and actively mined over time.
What have you found effective (or not) when it comes to note-taking as a part of your lifelong learning habits? Please comment and share.
P.S. – See also: