- The Benefits and Challenges of Online Lectures
- Effective Practices for Taking Notes on Online Lectures
- Online Text-Based Materials
- Actively Review Course Notes
In many online courses, professors will post pre-recorded lectures, narrated PowerPoint slides, and other written text. These materials are essential to your success in the course as they will provide detailed explanations of key vocabulary, concepts, and themes. It can be tempting to watch or read through these materials without taking notes – after all, they will be posted there throughout the term in case you want to review them. However, taking effective notes on posted lectures and materials will help you not only to be more efficient but also to develop a more detailed and thorough understanding of course concepts.
Online lectures offer students some important benefits over in-person lectures. You can pause the lecture if the professor is speaking quickly or if you want to look up a word or concept mentioned. You can also easily review a section of a lecture if you find it confusing.
However, online lectures pose challenges in terms of attention span and time management. You will often encounter many distractions while watching a lecture online. There may be interruptions by those around you, and it is easy to let your attention wander to your phone to return texts or check social media sites. Because you can choose when to watch the video lecture, it can be easy to forget to watch it or to procrastinate until you are left with hours of lectures to review before an exam. Finally, some students feel the need to constantly pause the video to write down every word in the lecture, which is incredibly time consuming!
In many ways, effective practices for taking notes on recorded lectures are similar to best practices for taking notes during in-person lectures. You may want to review Academic Skills’ resources and templates that provide full instruction on active listening and notetaking. Here, we will review some of the techniques that are particularly applicable to the online lecture environment.
Research has shown that students are more likely to procrastinate watching online lectures and/or only watch part of an online lecture. This is because online lectures do not have a set time or location, which makes them easy to put off when you are busy with other work. You can combat this by choosing a consistent time and location to watch online lectures each week. For more on choosing a good time and space to work, see Academic Skills’ short video on motivation, time management and online learning.
- Review the syllabus: What is the title of the lecture? How does it fit within the larger scope of the course?
- Consider what you already know about the topic and try to anticipate what might be covered.
- Make sure that you have completed relevant readings so that you will be familiar with the key vocabulary and concepts.
- Print or download any posted slides or lecture outlines or Academic Skills’ notetaking templates to help you take notes while you watch the lecture.
Because listening to lectures online can be so fraught with distractions, it is a good idea to break lectures into shorter segments of time. Focusing on a lecture for 15 minutes is far easier than it is for a full two hours.
It is not necessary to record the lecturer’s every word or idea, especially when you can return to the lecture to review it later if need be. Not only is detailed transcription physically impossible, but excessive writing can become a barrier to listening. Listen for important points and for relationships between ideas in texts, class discussions, and the lectures. Pay attention to cue words such as “significantly, “or “most importantly” to help you focus on what is essential.
While you watch each section of the lecture, have a notebook and pen or a blank document ready in a split-screen. You may also want to take notes directly onto posted PowerPoint slides (when available) that you download or print. Try to make note of the following:
- New or unfamiliar facts and ideas.
- Things that come in lists: if the lecturer has created a list to categorize facts, reasons, themes, etc., it’s a good indication that the information is important.
- The lecturer’s reasons for questioning or favouring a particular approach or theory.
- Points over which the lecturer pauses or repeats: people lecture with certain goals in mind, and usually when they convey a point that is crucial to their thesis, they repeat it.
- Sections of the lecture that you feel you should return to later for a more thorough review.
Some professors will post text-based materials, often within a unit folder. Again, it can be tempting to skim these materials quickly. However, like pre-recorded lectures, it is important that you read and take notes carefully on these materials each week. This may involve keeping a list of important vocabulary or summarizing the text after you read it. See Academic Skills’ guide to reading textbooks for further reading and notetaking strategies.
Once you have finished watching a lecture or reading a text document, it is important to find time to review your notes. Indeed, research has shown that students forget much of what they learn from lectures and readings unless they use active review strategies, such as the ones below:
- Read through your notes and highlight important ideas and concepts.
- Respond to the ideas in your notes: How do they compare to other topics in the course? What do you think of them?
- Make a vocabulary list of key terms and concepts.
- Use your vocabulary list to create a mind map or flashcards.
- Host an online study group with your classmates to discuss the ideas in the lecture. Talking through material is one of the most effective ways to promote thorough understanding. If you don’t know other students in the class, you may want to post on the course discussion board to see if there is interest in starting a study group to review lecture notes (make sure to ask your professor before you make this post). Keep in mind, that while talking through lecture materials is an excellent review strategy, you should never discuss or share assignments with others. See Academic Integrity and Online Learning for more on how to avoid academic dishonesty while collaborating with others.
Recorded lectures and posted materials are essential components of most online courses. By using active learning strategies before, during, and after these lectures you can improve your understanding of course materials and become a better online student.