Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Tag: doodle

The Art of Sketchnoting

I’ll start this one off with a disclaimer. I do have an A Level in Art. Please don’t judge me.  

I remember this like it was yesterday, as I sat as a delegate in a training session. The trainer came over to me and boldly called me out in front of my colleagues: “Am I boring you? What are you doing? This is important, you need to engage and be taking notes!” To the untrained eye, sketchnoting can seem like the mind is wandering and all that is generated is a creation akin to that of Mr Doodle. Little did they know that I was deep in thought, connecting the dots in my head and arguably taking better notes than most in the room.  

In its most basic form, a sketchnote is a visual representation of information often crafted from a mix of drawings, shapes and handwritten elements. I first came across sketchnoting in 2019 while at the Apple Distinguished Educator institution in Amsterdam. I was fascinated by the process – visual stories that came to life right in front of me! Simple drawings and illustrations, personalised to the creator. A new approach to note-taking! Of course, the iPad and Apple Pencil provided the perfect vehicle for this, however, there’s no stopping a creator with a pen and paper either. 

The Power of Sketchnotes – Scriberia

Visual note-taking has been found to have a number of benefits in academic settings. Studies have shown that students who use visual note-taking strategies tend to have improved comprehension and recall of material (Mayer, 2014). Additionally, visual note-taking can help to promote active learning and engagement with the material (Koszalka, 2015) and also support the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills (Nelson & Narens, 1980). Sketchnoting allows creators to make connections between different pieces of information and to see the big picture, rather than simply focusing on individual facts. A study by van der Meijden, Paas & van Merriënboer (2015) found that visual note-taking strategies were effective in improving the retention of complex information and that students who used visual note-taking strategies scored significantly higher on a test of recall than students who used traditional note-taking methods. 

hand drawn sketch titled Data Protection

Credit: Chris Wood – Data Protection 

You don’t have to be amazing at drawing to sketchnote. While I am not gaining a nomination for the Turner Prize this year, the process is what matters here (as an honest answer, I see myself as more of a knock-off Banksy you ordered from Wish than Picasso). Sketchnoting is a skill that takes time to develop, but the results can be astonishing. When I first started to sketchnote, I found a few skills that I needed to develop quickly, for example being able to actively listen and draw. However, I now find I am able to recall more information than I could with ‘traditional’ note-taking. More importantly, I am able to synthesise new and existing information much more easily, creating deeper learning and understanding more quickly. I could also turn typically mundane training sessions like a GDPR workshop (no offence if that’s your jam!) into something much more visually appealing and engaging.  

Hand drawn sketch on how to make a latte Hand drawn sketch on how to make a latte Sketch drawing on how to make a latte

In 2022, I remember running an INSET session for teachers on the benefits of sketchnoting and you can see the results above. We used a YouTube video on ‘how to make a latte’ as a stimulus and simply drew (because we all know teachers love coffee! Surely this was a winner in itself?!). I asked the teachers to discuss their sketchnote and tell me how to make a latte. All the teachers said they were able to recall more information than using traditional note-taking techniques and had a better understanding of the topic because they were actively engaged. They were able to link new and existing knowledge together and see the big picture like never before. 

Examples of Sketchnoting


Slides 1 and 2 – Lynsey Stuttard – Coaches corner, 1564

Slides 3 and 4 – Chris Galley – Inquiry by the fire, The equal classroom 

Slides 5 and 6 – Mathew Pullen – New curriculum, Data

Slides 7 and 8 – Kammas Kersch – Get Goog-smacked, How to organise a state summit

Slide 9 – Chris Wood – VESPA mindset

The sketchnotes above are from a range of educators, taken within conferences, classes, meetings and workshops. Simple use of colour, shape and text is often the best way to start.  Using these elements to create contrast and highlight key ideas. Each sketchnote has its own style that is unique to the creator – over time your sketchnotes will develop their own personality. It is important to remember sketchnotes aren’t a transcription. There is no way to capture every single word – and you don’t want to! There is also no right or wrong way to create a sketchnote. Sketchnoting is not a strict format, and shouldn’t be treated as such. It is deeply personal to the creator. Quite often the biggest challenge to overcome is the one of self-belief, that I can do this. Creators should feel proud of their sketches, embrace mistakes and evolve their own style. We must also acknowledge that visual note-taking is not necessarily a direct replacement for traditional note-taking methods but rather a supplement. It can be used in conjunction with traditional methods to enhance the learning experience.  

Apps such as Freeform “help users organise and visually lay out content on a flexible canvas, giving them the ability to see, share, and collaborate all in one place without worrying about layouts or page sizes”. The possibilities are endless for sketchnoting and even collaborative approaches. Do we need to change the rhetoric around what is effective note-taking? Or even what it means to be ‘actively engaged’ in a session?   

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post. Why not sketchnote what you’ve learnt? Or try sketching your ideas in the next meeting or workshop you attend? Share and celebrate your sketchnotes. I’d love to see what you come up with – make sure to tag me on Twitter: @ChrisWoodTeach 

Until next time. 

Chris Wood – eLearning Support Analyst


Mayer, R. E. (2014). The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press.

Koszalka, T. (2015). The effectiveness of visual note-taking for college students. Journal of Educational Technology Development and Exchange, 8(1), 1-11.

Nelson, L. D., & Narens, L. (1980). Complex information processing: The impact of the visual display on memory. In G. H. Bower (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (Vol. 14, pp. 53-81). Academic Press.

van der Meijden, H., Paas, F., & van Merriënboer, J. (2015). The effects of visual note-taking on learning and transfer. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(1), 1-13.

For further blog articles from the TEL team on doodling, check out Marie’s ‘Is it time to give doodling an image make-over?

Is it time to give doodling an image makeover?

Like the majority of people, I’m a doodler, whether I’m chatting on the phone, writing my list of food shopping for the week or at a meeting at work, if I have a pen and paper in hand there will be doodles. Some of my doodles are just swirls and rough shapes and some have given me inspiration for other creative ideas which I have put into practice. I even follow Mr Doodle on Instagram as I find the art of doodling fascinating! (If you’ve not heard of him then check him out!)

When we think of doodles, they are normally made up of squiggles, they are rough drawings that are made absent-mindely. When I think back to school days, doodling was often seen as a bad thing in class, students are perceived as not paying attention if they are seen doodling. However, what if doodling wasn’t the distraction we all thought it to be but actually had real cognitive benefits that perhaps could aid concentration and memory?

The importance of doodling – aren’t they just squiggles?

The need to draw is hardwired into the human brain. From our first scribbles at infancy to industry; doodles to explain complex theories and equations from scientists and mathematicians. In fact, it could be argued that graphic images predates verbal communication, when we think of parietal art or cave drawings by our primitive ancestors. Doodling can help communicate meanings to our ideas by giving them visual representations. When we put pen to paper, we open up our hearts to ideas, insights and inspirations.

Diane Bleck, an idea catcher and co-founder of the Doodle Institute, has taken doodling a step further and is on a mission to unlock insights, inspiration and ideas for large and small companies and schools through doodles. Diane shows how doodles can be used as a tool for strategic thinking, brainstorming and business planning. It can also be used for health and healing to relieve stress.

How can we use doodles in the context of education and learning?

Bleck explains how doodles can be used for brainstorming and business planning, in the context of a lecture, doodles or sketches could be used for visual note-taking. Visual note-taking is a way to synthesize information; carve out the most important points and use images to convey the message simply and effectively. Studies show that note-taking enables recall and the synthesis of new information. Doodling can significantly increase the amount of retained information, according to a 2009 study. It says that even if doodling is not intentionally related to the listening task, more recall occurs. If you would like to know more about retrieval practice, check out Achieving Mastery – How Important is Practice in Learning?

Doodling put into practice

Instructional coaches, Shelley Paul and Jill Gough explored how ‘doodling while taking notes could improve memory and concept retention’ [1] in class. Before approaching their academics about using the idea of doodling, Paul tested out this theory by sketching her notes from a 2 day conference; ‘it causes you to listen on a different level’ [2]. By the end of the conference Paul found that her drawings had improved and she was able to remember the information that was communicated from the conference just by looking at her sketches. These experiences convinced Paul and Gough that ‘something powerful happens when auditory learning is transposed into images’[3]. In fact, ‘when ideas and related concepts can be encapsulated in an image, the brain remembers the information associated with that image’[4] and therefore aids memory and learning.

Doodle or not to doodle? There’s no wrong way!

We know as educators and from our experiences that we all learn in very different ways, some people are more focused when they are being creative. Doodling may help unleash our creative sides when learning and help us to retain new information and keep us focused. Who’s to say it’s a bad thing if it works? Doodling worked for children’s author; Dave Pilkey!

Like all new skills, or even old ones which we haven’t used for a while, we don’t know how effective they will be until we put them into practice – maybe this is something you could trial out with your students or yourselves the next time you attend a conference! I do think doodling does need an image makeover as it can lead to really engaging and imaginative creativity, especially in education!

I’ll leave you with this amazing ‘doodle’ by RSA Animate of a talk ’Changing Education Paradigms’ given by Sir Ken Robinsonworld-renowned education and creativity expert, which shows how ‘doodling’ really can aid concentration and memory.


[1]Katrina Schwartz, 2015:

[2]Jill Gough, 2015:

[3]Katrina Schwartz, 2015:

[4]Katrina Schwartz, 2015:</P

Credit image: Photo by Lucas Lenzi on Unsplash

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