UKZN Digital Learning Portal

Study Tips for Online Reading and Learning

When you are studying and learning the content of your modules, reading should become an ‘active’ exercise. This means that you need to engage with your reading to maximise your learning. One of the most effective ways of actively engaging with your reading is to make notes as you go along. Research indicates that students who take notes by hand using pen and paper tend to remember much more information than those who type their notes. By writing notes in your own words, you are pushed to think about the ideas in the text that you are reading and how you can explain them to show your own understanding.

Effective steps for note-taking (Skills You Need, 2020)

  1. Write down key words and phrases which will help you to:
    • Focus attention on what you are reading making it easy to remember key points when re-reading.
    • Think more carefully about the key concepts and ideas in the text.

  2. Make written notes and include two main elements:
    • The content of your reading, usually through brief summaries or paraphrasing, plus a few well-chosen quotes (with page numbers); and
    • Your reaction and understanding of the content, and also questions that you feel the material raises.

  3. Use a note-taking form or style that works for you:
    • Linear – moving from one section to the next on the page in a logical way, using headings and sub-headings; or
    • Diagrammatic – using boxes and flowcharts to help you move around the page; or
    • Patterns – such as mind maps, which allow you to include a large amount of information in a single page where you must remember the underlying information.
    • It is also worth compiling a summary at the end of each section or chapter.

  4. Review and revise your notes:
    • Once you have gone through the text and made notes, you will have a reasonable summary of the document.
    • As you reread the document, other things may emerge. For example, as you reflect on your reading, you may notice themes emerging, or you may find that you have further questions based on additional reading – it is therefore helpful to review your notes a few days after completing them.

  5. Organise your notes so you can find what you want when you need it:
    • How you organise your notes will depend on whether they are ‘physical’ – written on paper – or ‘digital’ – stored on a computer – or a combination of the two. It will also depend on your personal preferences, but good options include binders and folders, whether real or digital.

Active Learning Strategies

An effective strategy for being an active learner is knowing how best you study and learn. Think about what works for you when you’re sitting in a traditional class and apply that to your online courses. Some strategies to try are (Loveless, 2020):

  • Taking notes during a video (this works well for reading/writing learners)
  • Listening to a lecture while you’re washing dishes or doing other physical activity (this works well for kinaesthetic learners)
  • Colour coordinating or highlighting your notes and reading materials (this works well for visual learners)
  • Using text to speech programs to listen to course readings (this works well for auditory learners)


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