The Power of Sketchnotes

One of the skills that I am known for is my ability to draw and hand letter. By night I am SuperDoodleGirl and by day I am the Director of Marketing and Learning here at i2i Technologies. I enjoy doodling and drawing, and want to break down some of the science and research to share with you why this can be a powerful memory and learning strategy.

I love to sketchnote because of the powerful learning that it enables.

There is so much information that is flying around so quickly. I need an effective way to listen to and process it. Learning to sketchnote has given me the superpower of focus and deep understanding.

  • I sketchnote while listening to conference presentations, TED Talks, webinars, or any other time that I need to stay focused on a speaker.
  • I also use sketchnoting when I have to assimilate a great deal of information into a smaller time frame or to be able to deeply understand it.

Examples of Sketchnotes for Learning

Absolutely not! The goal of a sketchnote is communication.

Does the sketchnote help the creator remember information? Can the creator use the sketchnote to communicate that information to someone else? If so, the sketchnote is effective!

Some of the early research by Mueller and Oppenheimer into handwritten notes vs. computer written notes is that handwriting notes aid in memory and retention of information. One theory is there is a link between the motion of the hands in the writing process and/or because you write more slowly than you can type. Since you cannot write everything down, you have to be focused and selective. By adding visual elements, you can also increase the retention and understanding of the notes.

So let’s look at two real world examples.

My colleague, Ken, and I attended the same keynote sessions at this year’s Texas Distance Learning Association’s annual conference. Here are our notes.

Let's Analyze These Notetaking Formats

Ken’s Notes

Ken shakes his head at me as I explain how his notes actually do contain elements of sketchnotes! Notice how he adds borders to draw attention to certain elements. He uses circles and rectangles and the “super hero BAM” style a couple of times for emphasis. There are arrows to help understand relationships. He has a clear title for the keynote and name of presenter.

Do these types of notes work for Ken to help him process and remember the content? Absolutely!

It would be interesting to see if some instruction in the sketchnote process would change or add elements to his note taking.

Roxanne’s Notes

My notes look different. I have a background in drawing and have developed my visual vocabulary so that when I hear a word or a concept, I have a simple icon-style drawing to use. It is the same process when you hear a word, you know the letters to write to create that word. 

I don’t have a linear representation in either of these sketchnotes. You will see certain parts where I will put things together when the speaker used an acronym or a sequence. I find it easier to create a structure when you are processing written information or are creating your own structure. 

Both of these speakers were fantastic to listen to and had a lot of stories and information to share. Ken and I were both able to use our notes to have a great conversation about the speakers and refer to our notes when we needed help remembering something.

Remember this about sketchnotes. There are foundational skills to be taught and learned before this becomes fluid in your practice of teaching and learning. Being a true learner is awkward and messy. If this feels slow and difficult in the beginning, it is because it is. So was learning your alphabet when you were 5!

If you are interested in learning more about sketchnoting, I teach sessions through video conferencing. This works well as a professional development session for educators or corporate trainers or even directly with students of all ages. It is a great use of a visual medium to teach a visual communication strategy.