Mind maps help flesh out a concept into details and doing so through a visual diagram. British psychologist Tony Buzan popularized mind mapping. He demonstrated this technique on TV shows using colored pens, which ultimately led to its popularity.
Conventionally, students are taught to write notes and read linearly—from left to right. Using mind maps challenged the notion of taking linear notes by suggesting that people actually scan a page in a non-linear way, which is why the resulting diagram looks like a tree or a spider web instead of neatly organized notes.
Linear notes look pretty and organized, but visual learners need more details and illustrations to facilitate any sort of learning. Mind maps help add to students’ knowledge by presenting information using fewer words while making connections to the central idea or topic.
Related reading: What is the PQ4R Method and How to Use it for Studying?
Our brain processes information in a non-linear way. Our brain jumps from one concept to the next. This is also how the brain retrieves information—it does not recall notes and texts verbatim. Instead, it recalls and retrieves information through the connections it makes. This is what mind mapping aims to capture. Mind maps create a creative organizational structure of concepts through lives, symbols, and colors.
Whereas linear notes, no matter how neatly written, might be monotonous and hard to remember, mind maps are more visually enticing and straightforward (using fewer words), making remembering and retrieving information easier.
Mind Maps vs. Concept Maps
There are many types of visual organizers such as the outline, Venn diagram, t-chart, sequence chart, and concept map. Each one serves a different function. However, many use the words “mind maps” and “concept map” interchangeably when in fact, these two are quite different. Here’s a quick explanation:
- Mind maps – focus on a specific idea. A person has to identify an idea or concept and create links to the main idea.
- Concept maps – deals with various concepts and making connections between each one. The end result is a free-form diagram and web of ideas with lots of arrows and lines in between.
Types of Mind Maps
All mind maps operate on the same principle of starting with one central concept or idea and breaking it down. There are different ways to go about this, and which type you use will depend on your preferences and what kind of topic you’re dealing with. Here are a few examples of mind maps with some descriptions:
- Buzan-style map – the main idea is written on the middle part of a piece of paper. From the central idea, draw some lines and write words that are directly associated with the topic. For each of those words, proceed to add more lines and write related words or topics. Do not hesitate to use colors and pictures—the goal is to stimulate the brain.
- Flow map – this is perfect for information that needs to be organized sequentially. This is most beneficial for students who are doing scientific and academic research.
- Bubble map – one of the most basic and easiest to use, the bubble map requires students to write a concept on a sheet of paper and write short descriptions of the main topic. This is perfect for those who wish to build their vocabulary on specific topics.
- Tree map – this type of mind map is helpful with categorizing large volumes of data. Whereas the other mind maps encourage the use of words and short phrases, the tree map allows longer sentences and explanations. This might be helpful for those who are into creative writing and wish to organize their thought and information.
How to Make a Mind Map
- Take a piece of paper and write the central idea in the middle. Oftentimes, visual aides are incorporated, as in the case of a central image. Not all mind maps require the topic to be written in the middle (i.e., tree map).
- Make associations. First-level associations are those that are directly related to the central theme. This will be followed by second-level and third-level associations. Use only keywords.
- Curved lines. Use curved lines when making associations.
- Use colors. Assigning colors to certain associations helps deepen the learning and understanding of the concept.
The end result of a mind map is a visual representation of a given concept, fleshed out and explored for further understanding. So do take advantage of using images and illustrations to help you remember the words.
Mind Mapping Software and Apps
Mind mapping websites, apps, and software are available to make the process faster. The main advantage to using these is that it organizes the information for you. All that’s needed is for students to enter the main idea and the keywords and indicate the association level. Users can take advantage of the tools to customize the colors and symbols to fit their preferences.
Some apps also allow groups of people to work on mind maps together. This is a good approach when brainstorming and developing ideas for a project with a group of people.
Why it Works for Students
Mind mapping works for students because it facilitates the learning and understanding of concepts. By making visual diagrams, students can flesh out a concept and draw out as much information about it as they can. In addition, it encourages a deeper understanding of concepts by breaking them down and creating a visual organization of concepts.
When studying and preparing for an exam, students can create a mind map of a concept to see how much of it they understand; if there’s anything that they can’t explain or do not fully understand, they can go back to the source material (textbook or lectures) and review.
When to Use Mind Maps
Mind maps can be used for purposes other than studying. Here are some examples:
- Individual study. Mind maps are versatile visual organizers that can be used for various purposes. As previously mentioned, it can be used when studying—breaking down a concept and understanding it down to the little details. Moreover, it can help students create study plans as it helps identify aspects of an idea that need further studying.
- Group work. Mind maps can also be used in group settings, such as explaining complex concepts to a group of people. Picture this: you are studying with a group, and you’re assigned a topic to explain to your peers. During preparations, you can create a mind map to understand the concept. When describing the idea to the group, you may use a whiteboard and colored markers to illustrate the concept and its inner workings.
- Planning. Mind maps are helpful in planning sessions. If you or a group are assigned a major project, you can use a mind map to break down the details of such tasks into smaller, actionable tasks.
- Learning languages. Put the language as the main idea, then create an index of topics with the first level of associations. For the second-level associations, put specific categories under each first-level association. From there, you can indicate particular words that you wish to learn. This tactic is perfect when traveling to a foreign place. It might not be a comprehensive course, but those essential words can help people get around.
Creating mind maps has benefits that reach far beyond mastering concepts and studying. Here is a list of some notable benefits of using mind maps:
- Structure and organize information – a central idea is identified at once and followed by associations. It helps students determine which parts to focus on as they flesh out the concept to learn more efficiently.
- Boost comprehension – complex concepts are broken down in simple terms and connected using lines and arrows. This helps students draw some meaning and connections between the words.
- Helps improve memory – using just keywords and arrows allows students to collect and retrieve information more efficiently.
- Supports creative thinking – creating mind maps encourages students to think in a non-linear way and to understand concepts from a broader perspective
- A guide to writing essays – Instead of using outlines, create a mind map of the topic and the topics and subtopics you wish to explore.
- A helpful learning tool for visual learners – visual learners learn best when notes are colorful and dynamic. Mind maps are an excellent example of this.
Before committing to any sudden changes that relate to one’s study methods, consider the following: your goals, how you learn best, and what is needed. Mind maps, although practical, are but an alternative to the usual note-taking methods. Mind maps are not necessary for everything—if you find that you manage well with linear notes, then there is no need to change that.
Mind maps are versatile. In previous sections, we discussed the benefits of using mind maps and how they can help improve a students’ education inside and outside the classroom.
Use it to help you understand concepts. Use photos, illustrations and colors, but do not get too caught up in it as the most crucial part is the ability to flesh out broader concepts.