The Learning Game
Distance learning students do not usually attend lectures, except possibly for special additional courses lasting a day or two. The study guides that you receive take the place (in so far as this is possible) of your lecturer. In some ways study guides are better than lectures because they are permanent records of what a lecturer wants to communicate to the student. But you still need to make notes as you read your study guides.
It is very important to realize that note taking follows careful reading - reading for understanding (See Reading Skills).
What Can Taking Notes Do?
One of the most valuable things about taking notes is that when you do
you are forced to articulate the ideas that you are hearing/reading. In
putting ideas into your own words you begin to understand them. After understanding
comes memory. The brain likes to code, group and link. It is much easier
to remember something which has meaning for you and which you understand.
Therefore, when working through your study guides you should be making notes
to begin understanding, which will lead later to remembering the material.
Use the following steps for taking good notes:
At the top of your page write down the date, the name of the book, the author and the publishing information so that you can always refer back to the same book. Besides, if you want to use a quotation or refer to an idea or theory in an assignment, you will have to acknowledge where you got it from (see referencing).
Give yourself plenty of space in your notes so that when you revise you can make additional notes. The column system is a useful way of making notes with space. Don't write too small because it will be hard to read later. If you are creating Mind Maps you might like to use A3 paper to give yourself plenty of space for pictures.
4. Key Points
Except for taking down quotations (which must be written in full and
absolutely accurately, including punctuation) you should not take down word
for word what you read. Many students make the mistake of overwriting; they
write too much.
Your own notes are the best place to write your opinions and what you
think of what you are reading. Apart from helping the brain remember, you
will be forming your own opinions which is what most assignments expect
you to do. Make observations and not down comparisons between references
or interesting points.
Different Approaches To Taking Notes
The three different methods of note taking described here are: the Linear (or logical outline) system, the Princeton method and mind mapping. It is up to you to decide which of these is best suited to your individual style. You may find it useful to adapt them or use all of them in different situations.
1. The Linear System is probably the most commonly used of all note taking methods and is the best fro certain types of information, e.g. detailed facts. A common error is that people take down too much information, rather than simple key words. To follow this method subdivide your notes into paragraphs and sections, using indentations of varying depth. Indicate the subdivisions with headings, numbers and other symbols.
The limitation with this method is that it may be difficult to organize or connect concepts in the notes, depending on the complexity of the subjects. Perhaps you might like to take notes like this and then later organize the ideas into a mind map.
2. The Princeton Method is very simple and gives you space for re-reading and responding to notes. Divide your page into three columns. The first column is used for the heading and main points and the second for the summary. The third column, really useful when you review your notes, can also be used to note things you didn't recall, examples, your own personal comments or a summary of the middle column.
3. Mind Mapping - If you know how to use this method you will find that it has unexpected advantages. Firstly, you have to organize your thoughts as you draw the mind map, which is the excellent aid to memory. Secondly, mind maps are visual and the chances of you being able to remember the visual elements (and the information) are greatly enhanced.
Using Skeletal Structures
When beginning study in any field, one of the best things to have is an overview. You may ask, "How do I get an overview of a subject I don't know anything about?"
As you begin your learning, it may not be clear to you what to include in a skeletal structure. Once you begin to gain knowledge, you should be asking yourself how the information you are learning connects and relates. This is how real understanding begins. Mind maps can be used very effectively to help you set up a skeletal structure. As you learn new theories, ideas or approaches these should be fitted into your broad overview.
There is not a right or a wrong way to create an overview but it should make sense to you.