It is likely that many of you have struggled to keep up with what the lecturer or tutor is talking about during an online class. The reality is online classes come with a whole lot of distractions. During a lot of my online classes, I struggled to focus - online shopping, a game or two of tetris, the sunset views from my bedroom balcony, going to get a snack and what not. This is why it is so hard to take notes during online lectures and classes. Below I have provided some tips that can help you overcome this issue.


Eliminate distractions 📲

The first step to increasing your focus and taking better and quicker notes is to eliminate distractions. Take a note of the things that distract you and do everything in your power to eliminate them. Mute all notifications, close the blinds, whatever it takes. “Punish” yourself by doing extra work the same day if you fail to follow the rules and reward yourself in a chosen way if you were successful in tackling distractions. 


Focus on getting the content down first ✍️

If you’re someone like me, you are going to worry about the aesthetics more than the content itself and be a slow notetaker. Have you ever noticed how fast the lecturer or teacher sometimes goes over things? Focusing on things other than knowledge you are gaining isn’t going to help. Make it messy (but organised and understandable for when you read it again!) for the time being but write or type fast and keep up with the teaching pace. 


Find an appropriate method and platform 💻

Choose the platform that works best for you. Whether it be digital or in a notebook, experiment and find your note-taking style and speed and adjust it so it matches the course. For example, using Microsoft Excel is a better choice for math based subjects than using Microsoft Word. For certain subjects you might need to draw a lot of diagrams so use physical books. Use colours and highlight things if that works for you. 


Pay close attention to important words 👂

Don’t spend time writing down everything that is being spoken. Focus on learning and only noting the important points. Most lectures are recorded, however, there are other forms of online classes that might not be recorded so you shouldn't take any chances and take down everything that is important. Here, the best thing to do is firstly focus on what the teacher is saying and then think about taking comprehensive notes. At the same time, pay close attention to certain phrases and write/type those things down. These phrases could include “this will be in the upcoming test”, “you do not need to know these topics”, “this isn’t on the syllabus but will be tested”, “make sure you understand this”, “this is very important for later courses” etc. These small phrases could reveal a lot of what is going to be assessed and who wouldn’t want to know that?


Polish up the notes later 📖

Once your online class is over, read over your notes again on the same day or night while your memory about what was taught is still fresh. If you were fast enough to take detailed notes, summarise them again in your own words. Or if you were only able to get down the main points, have a go at researching the relevant course content in more detail and add to your notes for extra confidence about any given topic. Either way, go over, rewrite and polish your notes in your own words so you know that you are understanding the content. Once you are done, ask your teachers if you understood it right. After your class is over is the time you can spend being a perfectionist and making your notes prettier if you really want. Personally, spending time on making my notes look detailed and aesthetic really helps me to spend time into my studies and take in all the knowledge. If recordings are provided, rewatch them if needed to clarify anything in your notes. Make sure every night on the same day as your online class you are rereading the notes you took and editing them accordingly to absorb and retain all the knowledge. Highlight important things, add new related information and note down questions you may still have to clarify. 


Pre-watch lectures if given the choice 👩‍💻

At my uni, some lecturers upload past lecture recordings and lecture notes a few days before the class is scheduled. Spend some time reading over these so during the lecture you are already a bit aware of what is going on and can really take advantage of that time by listening to and understanding all the explanations really intently.

Of course there are many other things you could and should be doing to improve the quality of your online class notes. This can include getting proper food and sleep to improve focus and multitask during online classes. The secret to taking notes in online classes lies in your ability to multitask - you have to be able to listen and write at the same time. Train your brain to do that. Be extra ready and energised for your online classes. To make sure you got everything in your notes and that you got it right, build a study group (or chat) with people from those classes, share notes and double check your notes with them. Ask the staff for clarification and feedback on your notes, ask questions and make sure you are confident with everything you wrote down. Everyone struggles with uni in some way or another so it is always a good idea to share that journey with your peers and teachers. I hope you apply those tips and find them helpful.