General, Online Learning, Studying

Strategies for Virtual Learning

I think I have a love-hate relationship with virtual learning. Some days I really love being able to adjust things to my own schedule and work from the comforts of home, but other days I miss the connection that comes from being in class and interacting with my peers. This got me thinking about the things I have done to try and make the virtual learning experience better. A lot of what has happened around virtual learning has been out of my control so I spent the winter semester trying to come up with strategies to navigate virtual learning and make the best out of things that were in my control. From very practical strategies to my own small quirky methods, I will share with you what I discovered so maybe you too can create a toolbox of your own virtual learning strategies that will help you thrive!

Building Your Own Unique Study Space

I used to describe myself as a messy person in the sense that mess did not bother me. I could work around it, deal with it later and still focus on the task at hand. But I have found through the pandemic and with everything being remote that having an organized space is crucial to my studies. With this in mind I started to get creative in building my own designated study space. In my study space I like to have a clear area to lay out work if I need to. Sometimes I’m at my desk or kitchen table, while other times I’m on my bed or couch. Doing a quick tidy before I study helps me not only clear my physical space but also helps prepare and clear space in my mind to learn. 

I also like to have special objects that provide me a sense of comfort, as sometimes school work can feel very overwhelming. I know everyone’s study space will be unique and it might even be a different place each time, so having that item when we may not have a quiet space or closed area could help bring that sense of comfort and designated space. There are so many different things that can provide you with that sense of comfort. It may be an object, it may be a song and or it could be a place. For example, my friend loves to sit on a park bench to do readings as it gets her out of the house and she finds nature very calming and comforting. To her the fresh air is her comfort item that helps her study and feel focused. For me my comfort item is making sure I have my favourite comfy clothes on and I like to light a scented candle that I only use when I study. Have fun with it and build your own study space in whatever way works best for you to help you navigate virtual learning.  Here is a list of comfort item ideas to help get you started:

Virtual Study Sessions

The main thing I miss about in-person learning is studying with my friends. I miss being able to rant when I feel overwhelmed and being able to laugh with each other during a study break. Virtual learning has me missing my campus friends. On the flip side, virtual learning has provided me a platform to study with friends from other universities and even with my pals who live in New Zealand! Have you tried arranging a virtual study group? During the winter term my friend and I had a weekly 1-hour zoom and it really helped with my productivity. It also helped combat some of the isolation that comes from virtual learning.

The way my friend and I would set up our time was by doing a quick check in to see how each other were doing and then we got down to work. We would usually split up our time with a quick talking break and would discuss the work we were doing. My friend and I are in completely different programs but having the support of another person motivating you to keep working hard felt great. It was nice to also be able to hear what someone else was up to and that I was not alone in having a lot to do and navigate through virtual learning. If you’re not sure how to start a virtual study session, you can join ours! You can find the link on MyLearningSpace in the Learning Skills and Development Online page. Also, if you are a student in either BF190 or BF199 come join us for facilitated study groups to have awesome conversations about the content of those courses. Information about these study sessions can also be found on the Learning Skills and Development Online page.

Leveraging Technology

Technology sometimes can be very frustrating but it is also so incredibly cool. I have tried to start leveraging the benefits of technology that can come from learning virtually. There are so many neat strategies to use with technology to help have a better virtual learning experience. The strategy that I discovered and found super helpful was being able to change the speed on pre-recorded lectures. On all recorded lectures on MLS there is a speed option. I found slightly speeding up the lectures beneficial for me as it was harder for me to get distracted, as I really had to focus on what was being said. I also would pause and slow the lecture down if something was not making sense and I needed more time to process it. Finding the pace that is right for you helps make watching lectures easier and more enjoyable. Spend some time exploring the technology you are using and look for ways you could leverage technology platforms. There are so many things out there to help you be more successful!

Along with leveraging technology for studying support you can also use technology to help with creating a study space when you may not have a designated area. Here are three online platforms that can be used as designated study spaces and a provide sense of comfort.

  1. Window Swap

This website lets you see through the windows of places all over the world. All you have to do is sign up, pick a window you find beautiful, and put it in the background for your next study session.

(Window-Swap, n.d.)

2. Forest App

This app and desktop app extension is like the pomodoro timer and helps you focus on the task at hand. If you are in need of motivation and the idea of trees being planted helps motivate you, check out this app!

3. Cozy Winter Lo-fi Study Beats

Lo-fi beats can be great as background music as you study and this YouTube video has a cozy virtual space video to help create your own designated study space.

Whether you use technology for study strategies or to create your own study space there is so much out there for you to use. Exploring these options could help you succeed, be more productive and maybe even have more enjoyable study times. Look for ways that technology can best help you!

Figuring out your “Why”

Lastly, the strategy that has been most helpful to me in this whole virtual learning experience is always remembering my “why”. My “why” is what motivates me and helps me have purpose in doing my school work. I navigated trying to understand what my “why” was by figuring out what intrinsically and extrinsically motivated me. These motivations are different for everyone. Examples of intrinsic motivators are a desire to learn and a sense of personal satisfaction (SpriggHR, 2020). Examples of extrinsic motivations are grades, your degree, awards, and career advancements (SpriggHR, 2020). Understanding the things that motivate me helps me bring purpose into all my academics. Learning Skills and Development has a great short video series all about finding motivation during the times of virtual learning under Academic Wellness Resources on MyLearningSpace.

Going a step further to help me remember these motivators and my purpose, I enjoy creating vision boards. As I spend most of my day behind a computer screen I like to have my desktop wallpaper be a bunch of images of my goals, motivation, and purpose. The visuals remind me that the hard work I put into my schooling is a way of investing in my future and the person I want to become. Whenever I feel discouraged or overwhelmed by school I like to go back to my “why” and remember the things that motivate me to help me keep going and to continue to work hard. If you are looking for a creative outlet as a study break, check out online how to make a vision board. The opportunities to be creative are endless! Vision boards can be made by hand from magazine images, or online using Canva or Pinterest. Vision boards can be displayed as posters on your wall, or used as desktop and phone screensavers.

Here is a great resource on how to make a vision board for what your specific goals are.

Like everything in life, sometimes things become challenging and frustrating, and virtual learning is just the same. But we can do things to find those small joys that make it just a bit more manageable. I hope you take time to reflect on your own individual experience so far and think about what has gone well and what has gone not so well to help you create a plan for moving forward. And as always Learning Skills and Development is here to help you navigate your academic journey!

 

Happy Studying Golden Hawks!

Alexa Stucke (She/Her/Hers)

Summer Intern

Kane, C  (2019, December 13). How to make a vision board in 5 easy steps. Christine Kane. http://christinekane.com/how-tomake-a-vision-board/

SpriggHR (2020, February 2). Extrinsic & Intrinsic Motivation Examples – What’s the Difference? http://sprigghr.com/blog/hr-professionals/extrinsic-intrinsic-motivation-examples-whats-the-difference/

Window-Swap. (n.d.). https://www.window-swap.com/.

General

How I Use a Bullet Journal for Time Management

Why Time Management Matters

Time management is an important skill that many students struggle with during their university career. Many of us weren’t taught good organizational skills in high school and they are so important for good time management. Good organization helps with time management because it helps students know what to do and when to do it (O’Brien, 2009). The goal of time management is balance and productivity, which can leave students feeling in control of their studies (O’Brien, 2009). When students feel in control, they don’t feel as much stress and, therefore, put themselves in a better position for success.

There are a number of tools students can use to stay organized and on task: agendas, wall calendars, or even weekly and term schedules. Conveniently, a bullet journal incorporates all these tools into one journal. Over the past year, I have used my bullet journal to organize my responsibilities, due dates, and social life. The bullet journal method was created to help people “accomplish more by working less” as it helps journalers identify what is important to focus on by stripping away whatever is meaningless (Carrol, 2018, p. 15). This way, you are left with only what is helpful for you! Throughout this post, I will give you an idea of how I used my bullet journal to stay organized and lower my stress.

The Basic Format

                  The basic format of the bullet journal method is a future log, a monthly log, and a daily log. The idea is to work from a large task list (the future log) and simplify it by breaking it down into smaller components (the monthly and daily logs). Many people have adapted this basic structure to fit their lives. I have adapted my bullet journal to be helpful for university by using the following format: term schedule, monthly schedule, and weekly schedule.

Term Schedule

                  The term schedule has all the important dates for my assignments, midterms, and quizzes. I assign a colour to each class and organize my due dates by month over a two-page spread.  This gives me an easy way to view my whole semester and keeps all my due dates in one place, which makes it easier to stay on track.

Alt= “fall semester overview spread separated into September, October, November, and December with colour coded assignment due dates on a calendar and list ”>

Monthly Schedule

                  The monthly schedule is where you get to condense your term schedule into what is important for that month. I often use a calendar layout, but there are many other options as well! This is where you refer back to your term schedule to determine how many assignments and tests you have so you can decide how much space you will need in your monthly schedule. You can also include monthly goals and tasks, as well as future planning if that would help you to stay focused, organized, and on track.

Alt= “Hand-drawn January calendar layout with yellow highlights for the days of the week and days of the month”>

Weekly Schedule

                  The weekly schedule helps me focus on any immediate tasks that I need to attend to that week. Just like the monthly schedule, you can adjust your layout based on how busy you are and what you need that week. For example, on very busy weeks, I like to separate my tasks from my events/due dates so they don’t get mixed together and I miss something. If I see I have a busy week coming up (thank you monthly layout!) I will add a section to list my due dates for the next week so nothing comes by surprise and I can plan for them ahead of time.

Alt= “First example of a weekly spread. The page is split in 3 with a mini calendar and tasks on the left, the days of the week in the centre, and events for the week on the right”>
Alt= “Second example of a weekly spread. The pages are evenly split into 4 boxes on each page containing the tasks for the week”

Tips for Bullet Journaling

When I first discovered bullet journaling, I was skeptical about the method because it looked like it would take more time than it was worth or that I was not creative enough to create spreads (more on that later).  However, through using the method, I have come up with a few tips to help calm any worries about starting a bullet journal.

Get Inspired

Look on Pinterest, Instagram (jade_journals, bullet.journals, amandarachlee), and YouTube (AmandaRachLee, Caitlyn’s Corner, Plant Based Bride, planningwithkay), for inspiration and to help you find what works for you! Along the same lines, don’t be afraid to experiment. The best thing about bullet journaling is that it is flexible to your needs. So find your inspiration and try something new.

It’s About Organization

The number one thing people say to me when I show them my bullet journal is, “I’m not creative enough to do something like that!” To be honest, I don’t consider myself to be a creative person. I pulled inspiration from other creative people and eventually found out what works best for me. You do not need to have super complicated and creative spreads.  For some, using their bullet journal to get creative is a motivating factor because they look forward to creating the spreads that will keep them organized and they are motivated to continue using their journal since it is nice to look at. However, the point of bullet journaling is being organized and making your daily life simpler. All you need to bullet journal is a pen or pencil, and some paper. Many people us a dotted notebook to bullet journal, but you can use whatever notebook or paper you have available to get started! There is no need to spend a lot of money on fancy notebooks and pens to try out bullet journaling; basic materials are a great place to start.

Helpful, Not Stressful!

Remember, bullet journaling is supposed to be helpful, not stressful! You are using this method of organization to reduce your stress, not increase it. If your spreads are not making organization and time management easier for you, it may be time to try something else. Try a different layout, simplify your spreads, or even take a week or two off from your journal if you want to try a new technique that you can incorporate into your journal later.

Closing Thoughts

                  Bullet journaling has been my favourite way to stay organized and feel in control of my studies. In addition to keeping track of all my academic responsibilities, I have also been able to use it to manage my social life and as a creative outlet. If you are struggling to find a way to stay organized, give bullet journaling a try!

Good luck!

Pilar

Writing and Study Skills Assistant

References

Carrol, R. (2018). The bullet journal method: Track the past, order the present, design the future. Portfolio Penguin.

O’Brien, L. (2011). How to get good grades at a college or university (Canadian edition). Woodburn Press.

Exams, General, Studying

Make Studying Meaningful: Moving Past the Myth of Learning Styles

Are you a visual, auditory, textual or tactile learner? Odds are at some point in your education, you’ve been introduced to the concept of learning styles and assessed for which one pertains to you best. The issue with this is that students tend to carry this information with them throughout their academic journey; students become affixed to their style as a personal identity which narrows their study strategy options unnecessarily (Newton and Miah, 2017; Hussman and O’Loughlin, 2019). If you’d like to get past this barrier, then read along; this post aims to free you from the harmful myth of learning styles and broaden your academic skillset!

What are the Learning Styles?

To begin, let’s dive into each learning style and how these are meant to enhance students’ learning experiences. A learning style is “a student’s consistent way of responding and using stimuli in the context of learning” (Claxton and Ralston, 1978). In other words, it’s a habit students use to approach learning, typically based on the senses. The core four learning styles include visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic, known as VARK (VARK, 2020). Visual learners are reported to learn best with visual aids and cues, auditory learners with sound, reading/writing with text material and kinesthetic with tactile experiences (Hussman and O’Loughlin, 2019). As harmless as this sounds, once students complete their VARK questionnaires, they are often pigeonholed into a single style and encouraged to orient all of their studies around it for the best chances at success.

Validity of the Learning Styles

However, the validity of the learning styles has been debunked for many reasons. For one, students often guess their learning styles incorrectly, showing a disparity between how they think they learn and what strategies might actually be helpful (Hussman and O’Loughlin, 2019). Some, once taking the quiz, don’t bother to use study strategies related to their supposed learning style and continue on learning just fine (Hussman and O’Loughlin, 2019). Further, utilizing your learning style doesn’t actually correlate with receiving better grades compared to students who don’t use learning styles (Newton and Miah, 2017; Hussman and O’Loughlin, 2019).

In fact, the learning styles system is recognized to cause more harm than good in students’ learning experiences (Newton and Miah, 2017). Believing that you can only learn best through a single modality limits the possibilities to make meaningful connections in your work. One of the most significant critiques is that the application of learning styles “does not account for the complexity of ‘understanding’” (Newton and Miah, 2017), all the ways in which learning can happen and how this changes depending on content. Instead, it’s better to use study strategies that are relative to course content to allow for students to attach meaning to their work (Hussman and O’Loughlin, 2019).

How to Make Studying Meaningful

Importantly, the conception of learning styles “was never meant to be a diagnostic tool” but a way to discuss study strategies that are meaningful to students (Hussman and O’Loughlin, 2019). This points to one of the major keys to success in your academic career: making work meaningful. This sounds simple enough, but between tens of pages of readings and sometimes archaic texts, can we really find a way to make all work meaningful? I would say yes! Below are some strategies you can use in place of the learning styles to make your study habits effective.

Motivation

Meaningful work does not always equal fun work, but even when this barrier presents itself, your motivation can inspire you to press on. For example, think about where you are now in your education, how this all started and where you want to be in the future. This is really helpful for reminding yourself about your goals and why your effort now will definitely matter long-term. If this sounds effective for you, check out this video and the Goal-Setting Worksheet on our study skills resources page to conjure up some more inspiration!

Visual representation of the acronym SMART: Specific (What do you want to do?), Measurable (How will you know when you've reached it?), Achievable (Is it in your power to accomplish it?), Realistic (Can you realistically achieve it?), and Timely (When exactly do you want to accomplish it?).
(Trinh, 2018)

Also, try thinking about how your life is impacted by what you learn. For one, it can be useful to connect previously lived or learned experiences into your current courses. This makes the learning of certain theories or concepts more relevant and grounds your thinking in real-life experience. Last, consider what skills you are developing in certain projects and how these could be useful to your career. For example, I’m in a course that requires me to do video editing with software like OBS Studio and Davinci Resolve 16. This is a new opportunity to develop technological skills I might not otherwise have had and I can practically apply them down the line!

Relevant Study Strategies

Make sure to use study strategies that are relative to the course content. For example, as an English major, I know that most of my assessments and exams will require essay writing. To study, I find it useful to create charts where I summarize texts in order to recall key information. I also rehearse for  exams by practicing writing an essay to gauge what I can include under a time crunch. In contrast, the Biology course I took in my first year emphasized definitional knowledge and identifying parts of a cell, in which case flash cards and diagrams became my best study tools.

My success in both of these experiences came from my willingness to explore the course material in a fashion that best suits it, a model that learning styles does not account for. Check out the Exam Preparation and Test Taking Strategies folder on our study skills resources page for advice on how to best tackle different test formats!

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a model for understanding how people learn and think, aiming to help us improve upon these skills. The skills included are remembering, understanding, analyzing, applying, evaluating and creating.

Bloom’s prompts you to assess what is expected of you for assignments and tests. Will you need to memorize information, apply concepts to real-life examples or evaluate the strength of an argument? Achieving the skills to do any of these is possible with Bloom’s! The taxonomy is also useful in helping you achieve deeper thinking skills, like moving from remembering to understanding, a transition many students appreciate.

Check out our Bloom’s Taxonomy resources which include practical study strategy suggestions for each of these categories!

Visual representation of the six levels of Bloom's Taxonomy, starting from the bottom: Remember (recall facts and basic concepts), Understand (explain ideas or concepts), Apply (use information in new situations), Analyze (draw connections among ideas), Evaluate (justify a stand or a decision), and Create (produce new or original work).
(Armstrong, n.d.)

Conclusion

Although it is more than okay to have preferences for your approach to studying, remember that not all course content is made equal – a willingness to explore beyond the learning styles could certainly help you study more effectively! Take ownership of your study strategies in order to reach the success you desire, and remember, peer and professional staff are here to assist you with any academic skills concerns. Feel free to book an appointment through the Student Success Portal or email lbwritelearn@wlu.ca!

Happy studying, Golden Hawks!
Destiny Pitters
Peer Mentor

References

Armstrong, Patricia. (n.d.). Bloom’s Taxonomy. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/

Claxton, C. S. & Ralston, Y. (1978). Learning styles: Their impact on teaching and   administration. AAHE-ERIC/Higher Education Research Report. No. 10.

Hussman, P. R. & O’Loughlin, V. D. (2019). Another nail in the coffin for learning styles?     Disparities among undergraduate anatomy students’ study strategies, class performance, and reported VARK learning styles. Anatomical Sciences Education, 12, 6-19. https://doi.org/10.1002/ase.1777

Newton, P. M. & Miah, M. (2017). Evidence-based higher education – is the learning styles       ‘myth’ important? Frontiers in Psychology, 8, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00444

Sprouts. (2019, January 3). Bloom’s Taxonomy: Structuring the learning journey. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayefSTAnCR8&t=1s&ab_channel=Sprouts

Trinh, Anne. (2018, January 23). SMART Goals. https://fullfunctionrehab.com/smart-goals/

2 Minute Classroom. (2018, December 29). Goal-setting for students | 4 key steps. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8agsaXfHN4&t=7s&ab_channel=2MinuteClassroom

VARK. (2020). The VARK modalities. https://vark-learn.com/introduction-to-vark/the-vark-modalities/

Editing, Writing

Reverse Outlining for Essay Editing

In university, students are often asked to write essays that are many pages in length, making the task of editing feel never-ending. However, there is a technique that can help students with the editing process: reverse outlining. While some writers choose to complete an outline before they begin writing, the reverse outline takes the opposite approach. Reverse outlining is a style of editing that is done after completing a first draft. This technique allows the writer to get an overview of their main points by breaking down the paper paragraph by paragraph. By reviewing the essay in sections, students are able to assess the structure and flow of their paper more easily. Let’s explore how to use this technique, the benefits, and what kind of writer may get the most out of reverse outlining!

There are lots of ways to approach the reverse outline. The basic method is reading through your paper, paragraph by paragraph, and writing a short sentence or description of each paragraph’s main points. This is kind of like the reading strategy called noting for gist in which you write short summary notes in the margins to create a brief outline of a reading. When you’re done applying this process to your essay, you will have an outline of your paper that you can then review. The hosts of the WriteCast podcast by the Walden University Writing Centre recommend printing out your paper and making notes in the margin (Helakoski & Philbrook, 2007). Alternatively, you can review your draft on your computer and make notes in a separate document or by using the comment feature in Microsoft Word found under the “Review” tab. The University of Toronto Scarborough’s Writing Centre recommends numbering each paragraph and writing your description on a separate document or piece of paper with the corresponding number (King, n.d.).

How ever you have chosen to create your reverse outline, you should now have a brief overview of your paper and its main points. This can help you identify a number of things in your paper. First, you will be able to determine if you have structured your paper appropriately. Are similar ideas paired together? Have you provided background information before analyzing the topics of your paper? Reviewing your paper paragraph by paragraph can make it easier to identify if your paper has a good overall structure as well as make it easier to move sections around if you need to.

Similar to identifying the structure of your paper, using a reverse outline can make repetition, redundancies, or the need for clearer transitions more apparent. Removing redundancies and including clear transitions helps with the flow of a paper and helps the reader understand your main points. If you notice the repetition of key themes or topics in your reverse outline, you can choose to remove paragraphs entirely. On the other hand, if a paragraph has a similar topic but can’t stand alone, consider combining it with another paragraph that has related information; this can strengthen a paragraph and overall argument as you are providing more evidence.

Reverse outlining can also help with creating transitions between paragraphs. As you read through your reverse outline, ask yourself if the paper flows; are your paragraphs in a logical order and do they build upon each other? Addressing this issue can be as easy as changing the order of your paragraphs or identifying missing information that will strengthen your overall argument.

 Finally, reverse outlining can also help with paragraph development. You should be able to succinctly describe the topic of each paragraph. If you can’t, you may have too many ideas and should consider breaking up the paragraph. On the other hand, you may find that being too succinct reveals issues. If your paragraph is similar in length to the short description you write, your paragraph may be underdeveloped. Consider finding more evidence to support the topic of the paragraph, combining this paragraph with another, or choosing a different topic that you have more support for.

Students who take a deep revising approach to writing their papers or those who want to make sure they are meeting assignment instructions can also benefit from the reverse outlining technique. Deep revising is a style of writing where the writer begins with only a basic idea of how they want their paper to look. They often have multiple drafts and editing sessions before completing their final draft for submission. For some deep revisers, it can take a lot of work to begin editing their paper because it may not have a lot of form or structure developed. A reverse outline is a great way of simplifying an essay and giving an overview of the main points so you can begin improving your ideas.

Some instructors have detailed guidelines for students to follow when writing their essays. It’s important that these instructions are followed so you don’t lose any marks. There’s nothing worse than missing out on a good grade because you forgot an important part of the instructions in your paper!  If your instructor requires a certain number of paragraphs dedicated to certain themes or topics or there is specific content that they want you to cover, using a reverse outline can serve as a checklist for these requirements. For example, if your professor wants at least one paragraph on background information, two on analysis, and one on personal reflection, you can add these to your notes when creating the reverse outline, then compare your outline to the assignment instructions and check them off.

Reverse outlining can be a great tool for many students. It can help to create structure, ensure flow, and identify areas that need to be stronger. By addressing these issues in the revision phase of a paper, students give themselves a great chance at success.

Happy writing!

Pilar Vergara-King
Writing and Study Skills Assistant

References:

Helakoski, C., & Philbrook, M. (Hosts). (2017, September 29). How and why to revise with a reverse outline (No. 43) [Audio podcast episode]. In WriteCast: A Casual Conversation for Serious Writers. Walden University Writing Centre https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/how-and-why-to-revise-with-a-reverse-outline-episode-43/id658056290?i=1000391737469

King, S. (n.d.). Reverse outline. The Writing Centre, University of Toronto Scarborough. https://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/twc/sites/utsc.utoronto.ca.twc/files/resource-files/Reverse%20Outline_0.pdf

Note Taking

Exploring OneNote as an Alternative Note-Taking Tool

OneNote is an often overlooked note-taking application that is a part of the Microsoft Suite (which all Laurier students can get for free). There are so many features within OneNote that make it an amazing resource for taking class notes, planning assignments, and even studying for tests and exams. In this post, I will go through some of the most helpful features of OneNote that you may not know are available.

Keep in mind that these features may look different depending on the version of OneNote that you’re using (in your browser or on Windows or Mac, for example).

The Basics

Getting Organized

There are multiple ways to organize your notes in OneNote, and everyone I’ve talked to does it a little bit differently. I usually create a notebook for the year by clicking “Add Notebook,” and add a section for each course. I then add a page for each day of lecture notes.

Screenshot image showing in OneNote where to find "add notebook".

Another organization method is to create a new notebook for each class and then add a section for each lecture.

Screenshot image showing in OneNote where notebooks can be found.

There’s no one right or wrong way to organize your notes, and I’m sure there are many more ways out there than what I’ve mentioned. It ultimately comes down to what you prefer and what works best for your needs.

Creating Notes

The actual writing of notes is straightforward on OneNote: you can click anywhere on the white space on the page, and it will create a text box for you. From there, all of the formatting options look the same as they do in Word. Clicking anywhere on the white space on the screen creates a new text box; you can click and drag the box to move around these sections to reorganize afterwards if needed.

Another one of my favourite features in OneNote is the automatic sourcing. When you copy and paste from the internet into OneNote, it automatically sources where you got that information. This is extremely helpful when taking notes for an assignment, so you won’t lose the details for where you found that text!

Screenshot image showing in OneNote a note titled Study Tips with several bullet points and a reference at the end.

Aside from just taking course notes, OneNote is also a great tool for notes you make when planning assignments and studying for exams! When I start working on an assignment, I like to make a checklist of all of the things I need to do for the assignment. OneNote allows me to do this and take my research notes all in the same place.

Tags

One of my favourite features of OneNote is tagging. In your notes, you have the options to place different types of tags, and you can even create your own! These tag types include to-do, important, question, definition, and remember for later. To use them, you have to click on the tag you want, and it will place the tag on the line of text that you’re currently typing on.

Screenshot image showing in OneNote what the tag feature looks like.

You can also search your notes to look for specific tags so if you want to see all of the definitions you’ve tagged you can click the “Find Tags” button and it will show you all of your tags organized by the type of tag. I use this feature when I’m studying for an exam and I want to look through all of the topics that I’ve tagged as important. This is an extremely useful feature as it cuts down a lot of time spent trying to flip through all of your course notes to find the information you need to study.

Screenshot image showing in OneNote where to find the "Find Tags" feature.

I think the best part of the tagging feature is the ability to create your own tags that can say anything you want! I usually use them to tag stuff that I know is going to be on a particular test or if I take note of something in a lecture that would be useful for an essay or assignment I’m working on. To create a tag, click the drop-down menu in the tags section, and at the bottom you’ll see a “Customize Tags” button; when you click that button, it opens a little box that shows all your tags and a button that says “New Tag.” Selecting the “New Tag” option then opens another box where you can name your tag, choose a symbol, and choose whether you want to highlight with the tag.

Screenshot images showing in OneNote how to add a new tag to your notes.

Page Templates

Another useful feature of OneNote is one that’s kind of hidden in the settings. OneNote has pre-made templates for taking lecture notes! You can access this by going to “Insert” at the top of the page in the toolbar and clicking on “Page Templates.” From there, you’ll find a whole sidebar with different types of templates. Under “Academic,” there’s a variety of different lecture-specific templates! My personal favourite is the “Lecture Notes and Study Questions” template as I find it gives me the most options of what to include. However, you can always add your own text boxes and different sections to any of the templates or edit the titles to suit your needs for your own notes.

Screenshot image showing in OneNote what the Page Templates button looks like.
Screenshot image showing in OneNote the template mentioned.

If the premade note templates on OneNote don’t work best for you, you can create your own! A popular note-taking style, and one that I use, is the Cornell System of note-taking. The Cornell System helps you identify the important information during your lecture or reading and reflect on what you learned afterwards. Creating a Cornell System template in OneNote is extremely simple. You first want to create a table with two columns. To do this, click “Insert” at the top of the page, then click “Table” to create your 2×1 table. You can easily resize these by clicking and dragging on the lines, or hitting enter or space on your keyboard to expand the box to whatever size you want.

Screenshot image showing in OneNote how to insert a table.

The left column is where you will write any questions, key terms, or important topics that you notice during the lecture or while reading. The right column is where you will write your lecture notes; you could include information from the slideshows and what the professor is saying, or any important information from a reading. Next, we’re going to add a second table, but this time it’ll be 1×1, so it’ll create a single box. This box will go beneath the other two and act as your summary section. Here you can summarize your notes after reviewing them. This can be as long as you want, a single sentence or even a paragraph long.

When you’ve created all of the boxes, your page should look something like this. You can then copy and paste this into any of your other OneNote pages to use it as a pre-made template.

Screenshot image showing in OneNote the Cornell set up for note-taking.

Conclusion

There are a lot of benefits to using OneNote compared to Word or other note-taking software. I have found it easier to organize and navigate my notes because of the ability to have my courses organized by notebooks like they would be if I was handwriting my notes. The tagging feature also makes it a lot easier for me to find what I need, rather than flipping through handwritten notes or trying to find it in the right Word document. I’d recommend OneNote to any students who are looking for a new way to take notes that could improve organization and efficiency. I hope that these tips help get you started with OneNote, but there are a lot more features to explore to figure out what may work best for you!

Happy note-taking!

Katelyn
Peer Mentor