Note-Taking Technologies

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Revision as of 00:01, 30 March 2007 by Abauer (talk | contribs) (Independent Variables)
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We are conducting an investigation into the relationship between note-taking and learning in online courses. The literature has shown that the process of taking notes can have a positive impact on long-term retention. Our completed studies indicate that the features included in online note-taking applications can have an effect on these process benefits. Analyses of our results have led us to explore the effect of selection-based note-taking on both behavior and learning.

Via several completed and proposed experiments, we are exploring two general hypothesis regarding the effect of note-taking on learning. First, we believe that note-taking encourages active processing, and thus long-term retention, when it requires students to attend to the critical elements of the learning material. This results in increased feature validity of the mental representation of the knowledge component. This falls within the Refinement and Fluency cluster. Our second hypothesis is that note-taking facilitates long-term retention when it involves the use of multiple representations of concepts. This falls within the Coordinative Learning cluster. Our studies are designed to evaluate these hypotheses by comparing note-taking tools offering different functionality.

View the 'Descendents' section to view experiments associated with these hypotheses.


Selection: This term is used in the context of this study to identify the behavior of using the mouse and cursor to actively highlight a portion of digital text. Selection is first step for several online note-taking techniques, including copy-paste and annotation.

Copy-Paste: This is the act of selecting material, copying it to the computer clipboard (via a keyboard shortcut or menu), and then pasting it into students’ notes.

Highlighting: The act of creating a lasting distinction between the selected text and the main content. For example, through creating a yellow background or underlining the text.

Research Question

Practical question: Can we improve learning outcomes in online courses by changing the way students can take notes?

Scientific question: What are the cognitive mechanisms underlying learning gains from note-taking?


Note-taking research has shown that the process of taking notes can have a positive impact on long-term retention (Kobayashi 2005, 2006). Two main processes have been proposed to explain the mechanisms behind learning gains. The attention hypothesis is that "note-taking forces the learner to pay more attention to the presented material", while the generation hypothesis states that note-taking causes students to "actively relate the material to existing knowledge" (Peper and Mayer, 1986). There is little behavioral data to support either of these hypothesis. Technology may allows us to investigate these hypothesis in greater detail, as our preliminary studies indicate it provides a level of control over the note-taking process, and thus behavior.

It is useful to cast the two above hypotheses in PSLC terms. The attention hypothesis can be restated with regards to the focusing aspect of Refinement and Fluency. Note-taking thus facilitates learning when it requires students to focus on the critical knowledge components of the learning material. The generation hypothesis can be restated with regards to the Coordinative Learning cluster. Note-taking facilitates learning when it requires students to coordinate multiple versions of the same learning material.

Our preliminary results indicate some support for the focusing hypothesis. We found that when students use copy-paste functionality, they performed worse on items that they recorded in a wordy fashion than they did on items they recorded more efficiently. The wordiness may be an indication of students' focus, showing a lack of attention to the critical components of the ideas. In addition, copy-paste functionality increased the number of items students recorded when compared to note-taking via typing. This may be an indication of decreased attention to key ideas.

Technology offers a valuable comparison by which to evaluate the coordination hypothesis. While copy-paste note-taking involves the creation of a secondary notepad, which is available at all times, highlighting does not involve a notepad. Coordinating the information in the notepad with the information in the window may promote learning, much as seen in Wiley's work (Wiley, 2001).

Dependent Variables

Described on individual study pages. Long-term retention measures are included in all but the initial study.

Independent Variables


This is the basic note-taking text-editor. Built in javascript, the editor occupies the lower third of the screen, while the learning materials occupy the top of the screen. The functionality of the various manipulations is described on the individual study pages.


1. Attention/Fluency-Refinement: Note-taking benefits students when it requires them to focus on the critical components of the ideas they are recording. Restricting the amount of material students can select in any individual selection behavior will increase the attention paid to critical features of the learning material. This will result in improved retention compared to unrestricted selection.

2. Coordinative Learning/Additional Representation: Note-taking benefits students because it allows them to simultaneously coordinate two representations of the same material, the fixed one created by the content author, and their own set of notes.



See individual experiment pages listed below in the Descendents section.


Completed Experiments

Planned Experiments

  • Note-Taking: Coordination: Evaluates the hypothesis that positive note-taking involves coordinating the notepad with the learning materials by comparing performance using copy-paste with performance using highlighting.
  • Note-Taking: Focusing On Concepts: Evaluates the hypothesis that positive note-taking involves attention to what is being recorded by comparing unrestricted copy-paste with a restricted copy-paste.
  • Note-Taking: Focusing On Quantity: Evaluates the hypothesis that positive note-taking involves focusing on key concepts by comparing a tool that allows students to record as many ideas as they desire with a tool that limits the number of notes students can record.

Further Information


  1. Kobayashi, K. (2005). What Limits the Encoding Effect of Note-Taking? A meta-analytic examination., Contemporary Educational Psychology, 30, 242-262
  2. Kobayashi, K. (2006). Combined Effects of Note-Taking/-Reviewing on Learning and the Enhancement Through Interventions: A meta-analytic review. (1986). Educational Psychology 26, 3 (2006) 459-477
  3. Peper, R.J., Mayer, R.E., Generative Effects of Note taking During Science Lectures. Journal of Educational Psychology 78, 1 34-38
  4. Wiley, J. (2001) Supporting understanding through task and browser design. Proceedings of the Twenty-third annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, (pp. 1136-1143). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

The following papers report our earlier studies contrasting handwriting, typing, and copy-paste.

  1. Bauer, A., Koedinger, K. Pasting and Encoding: Note-taking in Online Courses. IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT 2006), 5-7 July, Kerkrade, Netherlands.
  1. Bauer, A., Koedinger. K.R., Selection-Based Note-Taking Applications, ACM Symposium on Human Factors in Computing Systems 2007, in submission