Note Taking Software - The Key to Improving Attainment for Dyslexic Students?

In a recent study, when asked what problems they encounter at university, 95% of students with dyslexia said note taking - more than any other academic requirement (Webster D.M., 2016).

Dyslexic students face additional challenges with note taking, but they are not alone in finding it difficult.

Most students arrive at university not knowing how to take notes properly. This is not through lack of ability; they just haven’t been taught effective note-taking strategies.


Why is note taking so important?

In an education system where most instruction is imparted orally, ineffective note taking is a major handicap. The research is unequivocal: students who take better notes get better grades (Titsworth, 2004).

Students’ notes not only function as a way of capturing the oral content of a class for later review: the very process of taking notes is proven to be crucial within the learning process.

By engaging with information and creating summaries, students are synthesising the content, which improves understanding and memory retention.


How does Sonocent software help with note taking?

Sometimes we become so accustomed to the standard method of performing a task that we do not question whether there might be a better way.

The same could be said for the process of taking notes. Despite the advent of laptops and tablets, the process of taking notes - that is, writing down summaries of spoken information - has hardly changed in centuries.

Listen and write down what you hear.

It sounds so simple, but in reality it is frustratingly difficult. Not only do students need to understand complex academic information. But, as they listen, they also need to process and summarise parts they think are important or parts that they do not understand. It is multitasking at its most extreme.

The innovation behind the Sonocent approach to note taking is that it seeks to address the fundamental issue with note taking: trying to do too much at once.

Sonocent Audio Notetaker is the first tool to enable students to scaffold the note taking process - that is, to break it up into manageable stages - so that students of almost any learning style or ability level can do it.

The first stage is to capture a recording of the class.

Student using Audio Notetaker on a Laptop

     A student using Sonocent software in lectures to take notes more easily


With Sonocent, Speech is as easy to work with as text 

Demonstration of how the audio is displayed

Recording classes and revisiting those recordings for note taking is not a new concept. Digital voice recorders have been around for a long time.

However, Sonocent has created a unique visual interface for audio recordings that enables users to work with spoken language as they would written language, without turning it into text. This is the key innovation that makes our note-taking approach possible.

First, punctuation. We have developed a clever algorithm, optimised for distance recordings, which breaks up audio recordings phrase-by-phrase. Sonocent software displays each pause or breath as a gap in between ‘chunks’ of speech. These gaps act as commas and periods within the recording.

An illustration to show how Sonocent software visualises audio recording as editable chunks

Chunks are displayed on lines, much like text, and students can create ‘sections’ which are the equivalent of paragraphs. The chunks can be deleted and edited, like you can text in a word processor.

The audio ‘chunks’ can also be highlighted with various colours, either while a recording is being made or after.

The software displays different types of media in designated columns: audio, text, images and presentation slides.

Screenshot of Audio Notetaker on a Computer

         From left to right: Image / Slide Pane, Text Pane and the Audio Pane


When students take notes from a textbook, they often go through with a colored pen highlighting parts they do not understand or think are important. They then return to those highlights and take the time to review them, conducting further research or summarising key points as notes.

This is exactly what Sonocent enables students to do when they take notes in class.


Evidence that it works - Sonocent user survey

In May 2015, we conducted a survey of our student users which demonstrated the difference using Sonocent makes to their notes.

We are currently in the process of conducting our 2016 user survey and hope for similar results.

Student Survey 2015 Results

Student users on the quality of their notes before and after using Sonocent software


More evidence that it works - Student case study

Dyslexic Student, Hannah Sloman

Hannah Sloman is a 2nd-year nursing student with dyslexia who has been using Sonocent software for note taking and other study skills since 2014.

At the time of adopting the software, she was starting a degree in nursing at the University of Chester and knew that she would have to take lots of notes in lectures and on placements.

“Taking good notes is essential on my course. I need to capture everything that I am taught so that I can revisit the material, commit it to memory and apply what I have learned on placement.”

(i) The challenge: studying with dyslexia at degree-level

Hannah has dyslexia which affects her ability to take written notes. She was looking for software that would allow her to create complete records of lectures and annotate the information that she would need to revisit.

“I wanted an easy way to take recordings of lectures and instruction from my mentor on placements. But I am too busy to spend hours going through recordings trying to find the important bits - so it was important that the software allowed me to mark them up as I listened.”

(ii) The practice: Taking notes with Sonocent software

Hannah uses our software to create lecture notes by recording on her laptop, highlighting the key information and importing her professor’s slides.

She has also found our Sonocent Recorder companion app useful on placements, when she will record instruction from her mentor and capture her own thoughts at the end of each day.

Here’s what she has to say about how she uses our software:

“I predominantly use it for taking notes in lectures as well as annotating them. I load the slides up beforehand and mark down the important parts that I know I will want to listen back to in the lecture. I also write short notes alongside my recording as I listen.”

At the end of each day, I look over anything that I found important. It’s just really easy to seek the information out rather than having to listen to the whole recording.”

When I’m on placement, I use it in two different ways.

If I want to reflect on anything after the end of a shift, I use the Sonocent Recorder app to capture those thoughts.

I also use it if my mentor says anything important as my memory is not very good. So I’ll ask them to say it into the app and I’ll export it into Sonocent Audio Notetaker later on.”

(iii) The feedback

Hannah reports that she has been able to take notes completely independently since she started using our software.

Here’s what she has to say about it:

“I don’t think it should just be for people with dyslexia. Lots of my coursemates have said ‘I would have it if I was given it; it looks so useful’.

It’s really visual. That’s what I like about it. It’s not just all about writing, because you can colour things and add things. Especially with dyslexia, you need things that are visual, not just text, and that’s something I’ve found with your software.”


Dig deeper

Do you work with students who could benefit from taking notes with Sonocent software? To register your interest in an online demonstration, email

Dec 07

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