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.
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.
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?‘