3 Simple Rules for Using Recorded Lectures as Notes

In most of the debates I see around new models for higher education, the main focus is on how to change (improve?) the way lessons are taught. I am not convinced that is the right focus – or what will improve the system.

You can’t teach someone that doesn’t want to (or can’t learn). You can’t teach someone that doesn’t have personal toolbox that enables them to learn. Courses taught through E-learning don’t create the desire to learn, or provide tools for general learning – they just teach a specific topic. That is why MOOCs are used mostly by people that have already “learned” how to learned where “79.4% of students have a Bachelor’s degree or higher and 44.2% report education beyond a Bachelor’s degree. ” (see the study here).

Most high schools don’t prepare students for the type of learning that takes place in Universities. For example, note taking is a critical skill in University learning, but as I wrote in prior posts – the state of the art in note taking hasn’t really changed since the middle ages. Students need to play an active role in their learning experience and take charge of it through proper note taking. Having good notes and reviewing them is the most valuable skill a student can acquire – it is the basic building block that makes learning effective. Combing appropriate note taking together with a lecture recording is the best way to make sure that you have learned the topics and ensure you are ready for exams.

Recordings are important because, as the research shows, taking effective notes is hard especially for students early in their learning career – they tend to miss most of the important points. That isn’t surprising since a lecture are is usually first time a student hears the material. That brings us to rule 1:

1. Try to review the material before class. This is an annoying but effective way to make sure that the lecture isn’t the first time you interact with the material. If there is a recording of a previous lecture – viewing or skimming the recording will give great background on the topic. Reading notes is also good – but just remember most notes fall way short of actually summarizing the salient points of a lecture.

During the lecture transcribing the professor as your notes just doesn’t work, since no matter how good you are – you will miss many of the important points. Even worse because lectures are forgotten so quickly, you won’t be able to make up what you missed even an hour later. The most important factor in note taking is the review, not the act of note taking. The fallacy that just the act of note taking helps the material sink in is an old wives tale. The only way to retain the important is to review, and the ONLY way to ensure that you are reviewing all the important point points is by a recording or transcription. That brings me to point 2:

2. Recorded lectures are the only way to ensure that you haven’t missed any of the important points during the lecture, and give you the basis for your review

Not having access to a recorded version of a lecture is just bad pedagogy. The main arguments against recording are that the students will just stop coming to class, and that someone else will steal the lecturer’s intellectual property. In reality most lectures aren’t recorded for a variety of reasons – a key one being the cost to the University. However it is clear that they really benefit students. Both arguments are just poppycock and can be handled through other means  if needed (like role calls and limiting access). I think in the debate over the future of higher education needs to focus more on learning and empowering students, not just teaching. It also means that just like with other revolutions – students will need to lead the way.

Recording make notes truly effective as  your guide through the lecture recording, pointing out important focus areas and your insights gleaned during class. The best notes are just like tweets pointing out important events and focus areas for further review.

3. Make your notes “tweets” to yourself about the areas to focus on in your recording. Think of them as a quick index and summary of  the lecture recording, not a transcription.

Combining lecture recordings and notes is killer way to help students learn better – and modern technology  (like smart phones and LectureMonkey) is making it trivial for students to do it themselves.


About Jacob Ukelson

blog (mostly) about my work and technology. So far I have been lucky enough to have been working on things I consider fun and with really top notch people. I have worked in both large companies (IBM) and small companies (ActionBase, ConicIT, Dapper, eXeedTechnologies). eXeed was establish to remedy a failure of the VC model in Israel – most VCs were monetary investors, but most companies needed not just money – they needed operational and business guidance. That is what we provide at eXeed – not just an investment but also our time and skills as seasoned software executives. I have taken on various titles – CTO, VP Products, VP BizDev – but throughout my career a constant focus has been on technologymarket fit, aka customer development. Unique breakthrough technology is a start, but the product must solve real business problems. It needs to be something customers can understand, relate to and will want to buy. I have been doing this for 20 years for software products in companies both large and small.
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