Hand Cramping Up? Try This Professor’s Top 4 Digital Note-Taking Tools

Digital notes can help you stay organized and easily access information when you need it. Here, a professor introduces her top digital note-taking tools.
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Taking notes during class can help you stay engaged and remember the information presented. With digital note-taking software, you can do more than just jot down key points — you can record video and audio, collaborate on and share notes, and annotate notes.

The vast number of EdTech tools can make it hard to decide which digital note-taking platforms to use. You need to consider many factors, including your note-taking style, your budget, the tool's ease of use, and how you can organize and retrieve information with it.

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Ready to Start Your Journey?

Here are my top four picks for the best note-taking software and tools to try today.

1 Microsoft OneNote

OneNote is like a digital three-ring binder with built-in technology to support you during your classes. With this tool, you'll get:

  • Page templates for note-taking
  • Options for recording audio and video
  • Sharing capabilities
  • The ability to upload and annotate images, PPTs, and PDFs

One of my favorite features is that OneNote does not use linear documents as Microsoft Word and Google Docs do. Instead, you can take notes anywhere on the page, as you can on a traditional piece of paper. You can have text, presentations, PDFs, links, and drawings all in one place.

Another helpful feature is tabs. For example, you might add tabs to your notebook for each of your classes. Within that tab, you can organize pages for every class meeting.

OneNote is available on desktop, phones, and tablets and can conveniently sync across your devices.

2 Google Keep

Although Google Keep isn't as robust as OneNote, it shines with its simple design and options for documenting information. With Google Keep, you'll get the following features:

  • Reminders
  • To-do lists
  • Collaborating capabilities by adding people to your notes so they can edit and view
  • Ability to color-code notes with backgrounds
  • Options for inserting images, checkboxes, and bullet points

I suggest using this primarily as a reminder tool instead of as a note-taking tool. For example, you could create a different colored note for each class and then jot down important deadlines so you don't miss any assignments or exams.

3 Office Lens

In classes I've taught, I've often noticed students taking notes by snapping pictures of the screen at the front of the room. While this is a smart thing to do, I wondered what would happen if their pictures got lost in their camera rolls or accidentally deleted.

This is how I discovered Office Lens. This handy digital note-taking tool allows you to take pictures of content and customize it. Once you take a picture of text written on something, like a whiteboard, you can crop the image and clean it up using Office Lens.

You can also annotate your pictures with ink and text before saving them as PDFs, JPEGs, PPTs, or OCR Word docs. An OCR Word doc pulls all the text written on the whiteboard into a Microsoft Word document for you. It's like magic!

Another option is to save your images to OneDrive or OneNote so you can keep all your notes in one place.

4 Evernote

Evernote has come a long way since I took notes using the free version in college.

At first glance, Evernote is similar to Microsoft Word, offering both text formatting and editing options. However, it's got far more options. For example, you can do the following with your notes on Evernote:

  • Add tables, images, and checkboxes
  • Sync to Google Drive
  • Record audio
  • Upload and store documents, including PPTs and PDFs
  • Create sketches (great for mind maps and graphic organizers)

Another unique feature of Evernote is that you can add notes to a digital notepad along the side of your screen. This sticky note is great for jotting down quick ideas, references, or reminders.

You can also upgrade to get access to additional widgets, like a calendar function and tasks.

Remember These Critical Note-Taking Tips

Now that you've learned about the best note-taking software available, check out these helpful note-taking hacks:

  • Don't type out everything your professor says. Instead, pay attention to the overarching concepts and key points of the topic at hand.
  • Annotate the presentation. If your professor provides a PDF or copy of their lecture, you might want to try using a digital app to annotate it. You could also work from a note outline or graphic organizer.
  • Create a system to review your notes. For example, open your notes and skim them 10 minutes before class. This strategy can help you remember important topics discussed in the previous class.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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