What are Mindmaps?
Mindmaps are free flowing diagrams to connect topics and ideas around a particular subject. They involve the use of nodes, connecting branches, keywords, colors and images. The whole essence of mindmaps is to use the visual rather than just words, so a written definition of mindmaps is almost a contradiction of terms. A picture paints a thousand words (this is a key principle of mindmaps) so refer to the mindmap example shown here.
Mindmaps for Creative Thinking
You can use mind-maps to generate ideas. You start with your central theme and then write down words you associate with this theme as branches off this central theme. This form of mind-mapping should not involve analytic thought, just write down words as they pop into your head. Each branch may suggest new ideas or words and these form new branches off the first branch.
You will find that each time you write one idea down, another idea will always come. You will also see connections between ideas and you can draw lines to connect them. As long as you just let the ideas and words flow, without applying too much thought and with no self-criticism, you will generate countless ideas.
Mindmaps for Notes
If you are attending a lesson or lecture traditional linear note taking requires a high level of concentration and focus. It is difficult to capture the most salient points in real time. Often students will feel the need to re-write notes to highlight the most important learning points.
If you use a mind-map to make notes you can pick out the key words and highlight as necessary, leaving you to focus more on the teacher or lecturer and less on note taking. Any difficult or especially important notes you can highlight with color and/or more details. At the end of the lesson you will have a concise summary that is perfectly suited to your revision requirements with no need for a re-write (although perfecting your mind-map is powerful method to fix information in your long term memory, see below)
Mindmaps for Revision
Because mind-maps are colorful and graphic they are perfect for revision. Some students like to perfect their mind-maps as way of securing the knowledge in their memories. Studies have shown that the best way to improve memory of a subject is to regularly re-visit it. This fixes what you have learned into your long term memory. An ideal approach would be:-
- Draw a mind-map in class as you are learning.
- Perfect the mind-map later in the day (while the lesson is still in your short-term memory) with as much use of color as possible and adding more detail to particularly challenging aspects.
- One day later review your mind-map, tweaking as necessary.
- Review your mind-map again one week later.
- Review again after one-month.
- Final review after 3 - 6 months
This may seem onerous (in fact its just little and often) and what do most people do? They make traditional notes and then try to revise using these notes in the run up to exams. Many people find that they forget the majority of what they once knew and effectively have to start again. The systematic approach described above is consistent with the way that short and long term memory works and is the most efficient way to learn. It maximizes retention of information and exam success for the least effort.
Here are some more study tips: How to Study Effectively for Exams and Tests.
There are a number of websites that offer online mindmaps. Online mindmaps can be useful if you want to make them look professional and neat. Here is a selection:
- ThinkBuzan.com I feel obliged to start with Tony Buzan's website as he invented Mindmaps! Actually this is not an online mindmap- you have to download his software. The Basic version of his software is free for life. You cannot use the Basic version commercially. There are more advanced paid versions; Home and Student (one-off cost £39) and Ultimate (£149).
- Mindmeister.com This is truly online. You have to register (straightforward procedure) and there is a free version. Unfortunately you can only create 3 mindmaps using the free version. The paid versions are all based on monthly subscriptions (Personal £4.99, Pro £9.99 and Business £14.99)
- Mindomo.com Very similar structure to Mindmeister. There is a free version, again you can only create 3 mindmaps. The paid versions are; Premium ($6/month) and Team ($9/month)
- Bubbl.us This is a simple free online website. The software seems quite basic but effective. I recommend this website to learn about basic online Mindmapping.
Unless you only plan to make a few mindmaps the options for free mindmap software are limited. I recommend:-
- ThinkBuzan.com (refer link above). The free version is quite sophisticated, however you are not allowed to use it for commercial purposes.
- Bubbl.us (refer link above). This is free but basic. However there do not seem to be any restrictions.
Alternatively, with a little effort and experimentation, you can use Google Documents or similar (e.g. Microsoft Office or Open Documents). I used the Drawing function of Google Documents to produce the mindmap shown below. Compared to specialist software, you are limited but you can produce passable results.
Mindmaps for Kids
In my opinion most children would find mindmaps a very useful tool. Mindmaps can transform a very dry subject (even Maths- see my mindmap below) to something colorful and creative. Tony Buzan has written an excellent book "Mindmaps for Kids" which, in addition to mindmaps, covers revision techniques and methods to improve memory and concentration. As you might expect the book is extremely well presented, colorful, full of jokes, mindmaps and fun. My children absolutely loved it.