Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Tag: note taking

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?

Day 3: Evernote

What is Evernote?

Today we’re looking at Evernote, a popular note-taking app available on iOS, Android & the web. The write up proved a popular in 2015 and it has such a variety of educational (and personal) applications that I thought it worth revisiting this year!

The app allows you to create a record of anything from simple shopping lists, to notebooks full of research images, files and notes for your course, all synced over the web for you to access wherever you happen to be. The video embedded in this section gives you an introduction to how Evernote looks, and some of what it can do. It’s well worth taking a minute to watch this!

What does the app look like and how do I use it?

Evernote has a consistent look and feel across the web and the mobile apps so you’ll know where features are wherever you are using it.

Once you have downloaded the app on your chosen platform, you’ll be able to sign up to an account, and then you can begin. You can create things called: Notes, Notebooks and Stacks.

The easiest way to think of these are that Notes are stored in Notebooks, and Notebooks are stored in Stacks. Stacks are groups of Notebooks that may have a related theme or topic. For instance you could have a Stack of Notebooks with distinct themes, but which all ultimately relate your dissertation. This structure is the key to utilising Evernote to it’s full potential, as once you have everything in Evernote, it’s all searchable!

Diagram explaining Evernote file structure

Note, into Notebook, into Stack, it’s simple really!

We should mention the elephant in the room (i’m here all week): cost. Whilst there are paid tiers Plus, Premium and Business, the good news is that for most people the free ‘Basic’ option is more than sufficient for average use. If you really get on with Evernote then it might be worth paying for the increased upload space and extra features but it’s certainly not necessary.

Another pretty cool thing you can do is link your Evernote account to IFTTT (If This Then That) which is an online service that links up your various different apps with each other. For example, you may like to save your favourite tweets to Evernote, or perhaps save all screenshots you’ve taken on your iPhone to a specific notebook within Evernote. IFTTT makes this easy (and automated), we would encourage you to check out the website as there are lots of other uses both for Evernote and IFTTT.

How could this app help me?

You really get out what you put in when it comes to Evernote – jump in head first you might find it invaluable to your daily workflow.

One practical example is that each note that you add can be tagged with any number of terms or phrases that you can later use to sort through your notes. For example, if you were using the app to collect research for your dissertation, you could add a tag to mark every webpage, photo, article and lecture note you save, with it’s topic. Then, when you come to write down your ideas, you’ll have a list of your researched topics and their corresponding notes at your fingertips.

It works for collaborative working too – you can share notes with other Evernote users, allowing you to contribute for example in a group research project, or perhaps compare notes on a topic you have learned about in that day’s class.

Ideas for Evernote:

  • Create audio and visual aids for revision.
  • Search an index of all your work – time saved looking for that note you made at the beginning of term!
  • Collaborate with peers on both your work and your notes from class.
  • Use in class with students as an informal ePortolio.
  • Encourage collaboration amongst students (and staff).
  • Organising your own work.
  • Present notes on screen – to use in class or for your own research (paid feature).

If you (student or staff member) would like to dig a little deeper into the uses of Evernote, this article is an honest account of how a former Evernote skeptic makes use of the app in every walk of life.

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