Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated July 2016
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Microsoft OneNote

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Mobile version of a note-taking giant, now built for flexible, collaborative work

Subjects & skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Character & SEL

Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
Great for:
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (14 Reviews)

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Pros: Mobile app takes powerful note-taking tool's features on the go. Attractive colors and tabbed browsing make navigation easy.

Cons: The update time between devices can be uneven.

Bottom Line: Inelegant compared to some competitors, OneNote is a powerful (and free) tool for thinking and organization, and a no-brainer if you're in an Office 365 school.

Consider making OneNote your go-to tool for students taking notes in class. Students might use the tool for day-to-day note-taking or for a research project where they're gathering information from a variety of sources and need to keep it organized. Encourage students to use the tool to clip and compile information for an upcoming project or excursion. This might also be a great tool for keeping track of notes and resources for project-based learning. Use the tagging features to tag related notes or content clipped from the web, and use the audio features to record interviews, conversations, or narrative feedback from teachers and group members. Shared notebooks and the Class Notebook add-on (for non-mobile) also allow OneNote to be used as a classroom management and collaboration tool.

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Microsoft OneNote has established itself as a major player among note-taking options -- free, full-featured and available on just about any platform. Since early 2015, its developers have increasingly fleshed out the tool's mobile versions to include most of the desktop versions's best features. Still, while the desktop OneNote version is great, the mobile version lags behind a bit. While it’s still possible to use the app for taking notes, it’s not possible to reorder the notes once they’re created, or to rename their parent notebooks. It’s still possible to search notes for content within notebooks, but the included tagging features don’t serve as searchable tags. No feature is available for recording audio while taking notes. Additionally, there's no easy way to import images or PDFs. That being said, Microsoft has created some great partnerships to support OneNote, including nice compatibility with the Apple Pencil and some stellar handwriting recognition features. 

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For its note-taking powers alone, OneNote could be a great tool for review and further study in preparation for quizzes and tests, especially since it syncs across devices. It's terrific to be able to switch from taking notes on a laptop or desktop computer and transition to reviewing what you'd created on your phone or your tablet. Plus, the mobile versions of this app increasingly feature the long-established strengths of the desktop original. The robust handwriting tools and the integrations with Paper by Fifty-Three and the Apple Pencil emphasize how much these developers thought about making the most of the devices people might use to fill their OneNote notebooks. Additionally, its increasingly robust handwriting tools and audio recording features make OneNote an increasingly viable alternative to other note-taking giants like Notability and Evernote. This flexible, user-friendly tool could be a great choice for middle school and high school students -- especially if your school uses Office 365 Education.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Write with a stylus, clip from the web, capture audio: it's easy and appealing to create, search, organize, and review notes.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Powerful, flexible features alone won't get students organized, but improved tools for creation, sharing, and collaboration make this a great way to support good habits. 

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

With online videos and instructions for OneNote Class Notebook plus some well-placed in-app help text, it's pretty easy to access the tool's many features. Still, there's a lot here, which might feel overwhelming.

Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

Teacher Reviews

(See all 14 reviews) (14 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Joe L. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Loyola Blakefield
Baltimore, MD
Excellent multi-functional application that can facilitate almost everything.

I think OneNote Notebooks - and the extension to Class Notebooks - is a fantastic learning tool that facilitates 21st century learning very well. The variety of ways the Notebooks can be used - from sharing content to creating presentations to brainstorming and collaborating - allows students to grow within the context of the OneNote notebook and not become quickly bored. It is certainly not a niche product. It allows for enough personalization and individualization that it can serve most academic subjects and learning fields. It could serve both students and teachers better by being a bit more user friendly in terms of finding and accessing available tools, although it is certainly more user friendly when compared to earlier Microsoft Office applications. This is a great tool that I look forward to learning more and more about.

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