From simple web apps to advanced, AI-driven note taking software, students have never had more options when it comes to capturing information. But with these great opportunities comes the great responsibility of sorting through different solutions to find the right one for the job.
So whether you’re a college student looking to be more efficient or an accessibility or IT lead at a higher education institution supporting thousands of students, here’s what to look for when choosing the best note taking software:
Look at Your Use Case
The first step in choosing the best note taking software is to understand where you— or the people you’re choosing for—will use it. This is what’s known as your ‘use case.’
If you’re a student, the obvious answer might be, ‘in class.’ But are you taking in-person or virtual classes? Do you need help taking notes in large lectures, small discussion group meetings, or some combination of course types? Where exactly will you use your note taking software, and what do you need it to do for you in these situations?
Alternatively, if you’re leading an accessibility initiative in an academic setting, you may need a program that’s appropriate for all of these different settings, as well as plenty of others. Consider, will you be making the note taking program you use available to faculty and staff, as well as students? Will you be offering a single note taking software as a standalone option, or will you need to pair it with other programs or disability supports?
Think about all of the different ways your chosen solution may be used before moving forward with your search.
Consider Preferred Note Taking Styles
Next, think about your preferred note taking style. From outline note taking to the Cornell method, there are plenty of different ways to take in information and organize it. As you begin the process of evaluating different note taking software, make sure you understand either your preferred style or the range of styles you may be called upon to support.
For instance, if you’re looking for note taking software for yourself, think about how you usually take notes. Do you prepare an outline ahead of time? Do you prefer to take free-form notes by hand and organize them later on? Or do you already use technology to capture notes in the moment? More efficient options might exist, but you’ll still want to choose a program that reflects your basic preferences.
On the other hand, if you’re choosing note taking software to support a larger group, it’s worth understanding the many different ways learners take notes. Spend some time researching different note taking styles, or poll the students you work with on how they prefer to gather information.
Identify Important Features
With both your use cases and note taking styles in mind, start creating a list of important features your note taking software program should have. For example:
- How important is it for you to be able to access live transcriptions of audio course materials?
- Will you need to be able to access or edit notes you’ve taken in the past? If so, how do you want to store them?
- Do you want to be able to add images, screenshots, or other types of information to your notes?
- Do you need a note taking software that integrates with web applications like Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, or Zoom for virtual courses?
- Does your note taking tool need to integrate with any other systems or technologies?
It may not be possible to find a single program that checks all of your boxes. But by aligning on the features that are most important to you ahead of time, you’ll increase your odds of landing on the best option.
Evaluate Note Taking Software User Interfaces
Now, with your ideal features list in hand, start exploring the different note taking software programs that are out there, paying particular attention to their user interfaces (UI).
A good UI makes programs easier and more intuitive to use—and that means you’ll be more likely to integrate it into your note taking routines successfully. It’ll also increase adoption amongst the students you support, resulting in greater satisfaction and better academic outcomes. So as you look at individual programs, ask yourself:
- How difficult is it to get started with the software?
- Am I able to easily access all of the features I wanted, or are certain functionalities not that intuitive?
- Does the program seem like it’ll seamlessly fit into my note taking workflows?
If a program isn’t intuitive, see if help resources exist to get you up to speed. Or, move on to the next option—there are tons of great note taking software programs available today, so there’s no reason to settle on one you won’t use.
Conduct a Trial
Finally, once you’ve identified a few note taking software programs that are easy to use and meet your criteria, consider conducting a thorough trial of each.
If the program offers a forever-free version or a free trial account, sign up and start using it for your day-to-day note taking needs (or ask those you support to help you do so). Spend a week or two with each option, and the best note taking software programs for you will naturally emerge from your shortlist.
For example, Otter offers a basic account tier that’s free to use and includes automatic, real time notes for in-person and virtual meetings and conversations, audio inputs from multiple sources, and more. Larger academic institutions can look into Otter for Education to provide real-time captions and notes for in-person and virtual lectures, classes, or meetings.
Give Otter Business a try with a 10-day free trial.