H5P Cornell Notes

This post describes Cornell Notes, a new H5P content type developed by Oliver Tacke. After I explain what Cornell Notes are and how to use them, I describe the features of the new content type and offer a demo to try it out.

Cornell Notes is a new H5P content type. Developed by Oliver Tacke, it aims to support effective learning. At the moment, this content type is not yet officially released by the H5P core team. Still, you can implement it without any trouble by using the reuse button and uploading the downloaded file into your installation.

What are Cornell Notes?

Walter Pauk, director of Cornell University’s learning strategy center, invented the Cornell Note Taking System in the 1950ies. On the internet, there are how-to explanations, guides, and supporting material in abundance. At the end of this article, I will give you commented pointers to some of these resources. But first, I will characterize the main idea in my own understanding.

Cover picture by Frematers (Open Source Lab, Balikpapan, Kalimantan Timur, Indonesia), licensed with CC BY-SA 3.0

Three different kind of notes

Cornell Notes are templates consisting of three fields to enter different kinds of notes.

  1. Excerpt: In this field, you write your notes, e.g., from a lecture, from a video, from a book chapter, etc. The purpose of this field meets our common understanding of note-taking. Thereby it is crucial not just to reproduce (parts of the) content but to summarize it with your own words.
  2. Deliberation: The second field takes the key points, questions, problem generations, etc. To work on this type of note field is, in my understanding, the central part as you are reflecting the content and incorporating it into your mental model.
  3. Conclusion: The last field is reserved for implication and key-take aways. I would also add follow-up activities like pointers to further investigations and ToDos.

Please keep in mind that my constructivist perspective of learning heavily influences the above characterization. You will find in many other explanations a somewhat different description. Instead of generating actively new meaning, they focus on memorizing through active recall and/or retrieving the content. Therefore they use other notions for the second and third fields: Cue, key points, and recall instead of deliberation, reflection, or generation and summary instead of a conclusion. These notions might sound very similar but characterize a more cognitive-minded strategy, whereas my focus is on a constructive approach to note-taking.

Dedicated note areas and their arrangement

The second important point in the Cornell Notes system – besides a specific dedication of these three fields – is their arrangement. Excerpts and Deliberations are parallel columns, where the excerpt field is on the right side and much broader than the field for reflection. At the bottom is the Conclusion field situated, stretching over the length of both other columns. There is a lot of variation in the proportion of these three fields, as a screenshot of different templates of a Cornell Note PDF Generator shows:

Screenshot of different template formats for Cornell Notes
Figure 1: Different template formats for Cornell Notes offered by a Cornell Lined Graph Paper PDF Generator

Reading articles and watching videos about the Cornell Notes System I noticed two kinds of supporters:

  • The purists: "“The margin of the cue column must be exactly 2.5 inches from the left edge of the paper.” (see picture to the left)
  • The pragmatists: “Essential is the general L-form structure, but the details may vary” (see Figure 1)

It’s ok to set up the paper in whatever way works best for you. Some students find the standard Cornell Notes set up doesn’t give them enough room, so they open their notebook to a new page for each class. They use the whole width of the page for their “notes” section and the back page of notes from the last class for their “cue” section.

Feedback page of a quiz from a public course module of Cornell University I took during my research for this article.

This last quote was a big surprise for me because it relativizes and puts in perspective the note arrangements. It demonstrates that for the inventor, the structure of the note areas is not the most important thing. They are just a convenient device for (most) students to revise and elaborate on their notes, which is the essential idea behind Cornell Notes Systems. In public awareness, the focus of the discussion and explications is the arrangement of the different note areas.

Cornell Notes as an H5P content type

The realization by Oliver Tacke is well done as the content creators have much freedom. It is a massive advantage that in the H5P version – in contrast to the paper templates – you can even present the content students should use for their note-taking. You can upload not only text but also audio and video files!

You are free to label the different fields and placeholders to your liking.

Screenshot of the H5P Cornell Notes pre-filled fields
Figure 2: The fields in the H5P Cornell Notes are pre-filled, but you can easily change them according to your intended usage and liking.

Two special considerations

Although usage for content creators and students alike is simple and follow the H5P standard, there are two special considerations to take into account:

Screen size, resolution and theme

Depending on the user’s device and the website template the content creator is using for the H5P presentation, it could be that the display of the fields does not reflect the specific Cornell Notes arrangement. There are two possibilities:

  • You see only the content and not the area to write your text.
  • You see content and fields, but the fields are set out just in one column.

In both cases, you should turn on the full-screen mode. If you still can’t see the notes, you have to click the pencil symbol in the upper left corner to toggle between the exercise content and the notes.

But in the end, we have seen above that the arrangement itself is not the crux of the Cornell Notes System. It is far more critical that students revise and elaborate on their notes shortly after taking the notes (several hours or one day) and rereading and reworking them on suitable occasions (e.g., before an assessment).

Retrieval and Continuation

As a student, you can send your notes to a printer or a PDF file. But for an interruption in the note-taking process, two conditions have to be met:

  • The H5P system owner has to enable the H5P’s save content state feature and allow registration on the platform.
  • Students have to register and log in to retrieve their Cornell Notes.

Try out this demo

As in all my other educational reviews on H5P content types, I provide a demonstration for testing, downloading, and installing into your system.

Some Ideas for further developments

I know there are some features that you may feel are missing.

Oliver Tacke at the end of his Cornell Notes announcement

Oh yes! If tools are helpful and flexible, then many new ideas can be generated and converted to feature requests. I know that their realization depends on paid developer time. But maybe one or two of the following scenarios are valuable enough that an educational organization would pay for their development?

  • A more sophisticated header provides time (as is already realized) and fields for location and event.
  • Export of written notes as a text for further processing.
  • Sharing notes and collaborating on notes with teachers or other learners.
  • Note-taking not only as text but also as drawing graphics, recording audio, and video notes.


H5P Cornell Notes is another valuable content type from Otacke’s Lab. It has excellent flexibility as there is no predetermination with the labels of the note fields. Additionally, it offers the possibility to add learning content besides the notes in text, audio, or video format. Hopefully, it will be soon accepted and released by the H5P core team.

Annex: Some pointers to Cornell Notes resources

Instead of using a traditional link list, you will see a Wakelet on Cornell Notes. There are three possibilities to work with this app:

  • Just look at the embedded Wakelet on this page.
  • Follow this link to my Wakelet Homepage or visit the Cornell Note Wakelet directly. (It looks somewhat nicer because it has more dedicated space.)
  • Register for a free Wakelet account, and you can copy and add your links and content to the Cornell Notes and thousands of other Wakelets as well.

Von Peter Baumgartner

Seit mehr als 30 Jahren treiben mich die Themen eLearning/Blended Learning und (Hochschul)-Didaktik um. Als Universitätsprofessor hat sich dieses Interesse in 13 Bücher, knapp über 200 Artikel und 20 betreuten Dissertationen niedergeschlagen. Jetzt in der Pension beschäftige ich mich zunehmend auch mit Open Science und Data Science Education.

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