Screen-Writing: A Beginner’s Guide to Electronic Notes

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There’s nothing more exciting than taking notes! Okay—we admit, that might be a bit of a stretch. But with modern screen-writing and other technological tools, notes can become an incredibly useful (and fun!) tool for trainers.

Research has consistently shown that taking notes (and even doodling) improves retention and recall. Modern learners are more likely to eschew pen and paper and instead take notes electronically. Optimizing your approach for screen-writing and digital notetaking can help you create a critically important learning tool and encourage participants to stay tuned in to your material.

Here are some easy ways to dip your toes into the world of electronic notes.

Use Annotations in Zoom

The vast majority of virtual training now takes place over Zoom (or Zoom-like apps). This provides you with an excellent opportunity to use something called annotations. Developed primarily for team-based brainstorming, annotations are essentially an easy way to write directly on your screen, and they can be used in a variety of ways.

Annotations For Trainers

Trainers can use annotations to help make their sessions more engaging and interactive. That’s especially (but not exclusively) true in virtual and online sessions. For example, trainers can use annotations during ice-breakers to get everyone on the same page and warmed up (and to help familiarize everyone with the annotation tool). Other examples include:

  • Draw attention to main ideas: You have a beautifully developed PowerPoint presentation. But you can use annotations to draw all over that presentation! This can help emphasize main points and draw connections (no pun intended).
  • Make space for annotations: Include blank slides in your presentation and use the annotation tool to screen write all over those blank slides!
  • Turn annotations into creative exercises: Direct participants to use their annotation tools for various activities. Once they get used to the tool itself, participants may be more likely to use the tool on their own.

Annotations For Participants

It’s essential that trainers understand how participants are likely to use annotations. For most participants, annotations are an easy and fluid way to take notes as the training proceeds. Generally, it might look something like this:

  • Using annotation tools to take notes directly on slides.
  • Saving annotations as JPGs or PDFs. This will allow participants to reference them later.
  • Using annotations to doodle, draw, and otherwise markup presentations.
This method presents several benefits over simple hand-written notes. Because the annotations are right on the slide you were watching, the notes will be better contextualized. Not only will you remember what you wrote, you’ll also remember what you were learning when you wrote the notes.

Note: Annotations are often most intuitively performed when you can write on a screen—for example, when using a digital pen on a touch sensitive screen (such as a tablet). But you can also make annotations using a mouse and keyboard.

Use a Digital Stylus or Pen Tool

It’s possible that not every meeting program will provide you with access to annotations; and they might not be practical for in-person sessions at all. That’s why many trainers and learners have begun using digital pen tools to take electronic notes in person. 

Digital pens come in all sorts of styles with varying capabilities. Sometimes, they need to use special paper, sometimes they don’t. But usually they all work in roughly the same way: they store what you write down as a digital file. That means:

  • You can easily download and organize your notes into a digital workspace.
  • You can have access to your notes across a variety of platforms.
  • You can easily edit your notes once they are downloaded to your computer of choice.

Digital pens provide a significant level of flexibility and make it easy to take notes without getting distracted by a computer.

Use Notes to Enhance Learning

Electronic notes represent a shift in technology—but they’re still only a tool. It’s up to the trainers and participants to deploy that tool thoughtfully and effectively. That means taking a participant-centered approach to your training session. 

To learn more about how to incorporate novel techniques into your training program, consider taking a Making Zoom Interactive Crash Course or Train the Trainer Boot Camp.

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