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  • Luke Garbutt

Note Taking for Students with Learning Disabilities

Updated: Jan 15

Note Taking & Higher Ed

Image: Drawing of a whitehead against a green background, with a pencil drawing lines across the brain. Imitating note taking.
Note-taking Made Easy

Lecture note-taking is a huge part of the college experience. After all, it’s how classes and studying are traditionally structured - the professor speaks, the student takes notes.


But despite the centrality of this study skill to learning, it can create fundamental obstacles for some learners.


Note-taking makes demands of cognitive functions impacted by conditions like ADHD, dyslexia, and other learning disabilities. As such, students with these conditions are eligible for note-taking accommodations. Students receiving this support are often provided notes from a peer, removing the need to take them in the first place.


But the process of taking notes itself has been proven to improve learning outcomes.


So how can note taking work for students with learning disabilities?


Why note-taking is so valuable

Note-taking has two primary functions - encoding and storage. Let’s take a quick look at both, before exploring how the process can be rebuilt to work for students with learning disabilities.

The storage function

The storage function of note-taking is how we normally define its purpose - creating a record to come back to later. A good example of this in a simple form is the grocery list. The grocery list only exists because of the risk we’ll forget something, removing the need to learn and remember every item we need.


Lecture notes create a store of information from that class that can be applied later. For many students, it’s the sole reason for taking notes.


But the storage function isn’t the whole story.


The encoding function

Alongside note-taking’s creation of a store of information, the act itself is beneficial for learning. The taking of notes can aid recall, even if the notes made aren’t reviewed afterward, and this is defined as its ‘encoding’ function.


This has also been described by researchers as ‘The Generation Effect’. In comparing individuals that took their own notes versus those that received notes, it was found that generating one’s own notes was better for retaining information.


What research tells us about note-taking

The dual function of note-taking has very real effects on classroom outcomes. In a 2015 study, it was discovered that there’s only a 5% chance that students will recall information from a lecture that’s not in their notes.


Furthermore, most students only record ⅓ of the important lecture content.


For students with learning disabilities, the picture is much worse. These students typically record 50% fewer notes, resulting in 20% lower test scores, stats made more ominous by the fact that 59% fail to complete their post-secondary studies.

Though it doesn’t make a full account of these numbers, with a complex array of factors at work in any student’s level of achievement, note-taking is hugely important for learning and retaining classroom information.


It’s therefore important to find new ways of making the note-taking process accessible to all learners. This is where technology comes in.


Making note-taking accessible

Making note-taking accessible is about finding a balance between reducing the cognitive load of the process and retaining the effort required to make it useful. And that’s precisely what Glean does.


What is Glean? Glean is a web and mobile app that lets students record their lectures in an interactive way, creating what parent company Sonocent calls ‘audio notes’.


Through a 4 step process, students build their audio notes into a strong, multimedia workspace.


Here’s how the process works.


How Glean redesigns note-taking


  1. Capture: Students record their online or in-person classes adding labels when they hear something they’d like to revisit later. Moments can be labeled ‘important’, ‘review’, or ‘task’ to categorize info. This can also be done with one touch or click through Glean’s lightning mode

  2. Review: Once the class is over, students return to their recording, revisiting the moments they’d labeled in class. From here, they can add presentation slides to help with structure, and text notes to shore things up.

  3. Organize: Keeping notes tidy is easy with Glean. Students keep their notes neatly grouped in Collections by credit, professor or semester. Plus, they can easily find old notes through a simple search.

  4. Use: When it comes to test or assignment time, students have everything they need from their class. Reading view creates a simple, distraction-free layout for text notes, and all moments are available to study with a couple of clicks


Glean in action: To make note-taking work for students with learning disabilities, a tool should be intuitive and quick to learn. And that’s how Glean’s been designed; with minimal instruction, students should be comfortable with Glean, which itself requires as few steps as possible to use.


Since its launch earlier this year, it’s had a significant effect on student achievement and confidence in the classroom. And its ability to work as an online tool has meant it’s adapted well to online learning.


Take a closer look

Glean is now being used by hundreds of disability services departments across North America to serve students’ note-taking needs.


If you’d like to catch a closer look at Glean, and learn about a free trial, follow this link

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