Many of us have spent years in formal education and various training and classes. To you, what does it mean to learn?
To me, learning consists of two processes:
- Seeing patterns of related information, and
- Making connections between existing knowledge (what you already know) and new knowlege (what you are learning).
A great tool to facilitate this dual-process of seeing patterns and making connections is mind mapping. I first learnt about mind maps in the early 1990s. Tony Buzan was the acknowledged mind mapping guru, having written books and popularised this concept. (More than 20 years later, he’s still going strong. Tony Buzan has even established a learning centre in Singapore.)
A mind map is a visual summary of concepts, spreading out from a central topic. It is a collection of nodes and sub-nodes, linked together by branches and arrows. The mind map allows me to see at a glance how all these ideas link together. It helps me to see new patterns and related connections much more easily.
Unfortunately, mind mapping with paper and pen is a huge pain. I usually run out of paper at one side while there’s still acres of blank space on the other. Or I find that a node is better placed elsewhere.
Why a mind map is better than scribbling notes on a notepad
You might ask: If mind mapping is so much trouble, why not simply scribble notes with a pencil instead? After all, that’s how most of us have taken notes all our lives and it seems to have worked out OK.
But you don’t just want “OK”, you want something better. Right?
Let’s start our comparison between mind maps and conventional notes with how they look. Below is an introductory user guide to a mind mapping software in both formats.
The mind map works better for 3 reasons:
1. Radial, not linear
In a text file, the information is linear. It goes in one direction, from up to down. There is a mental road block which makes it hard for us to go back up again. It feels like we are going backward and regressing.
In a mind map, the information spreads out from a central node like rays of light from the sun. It’s easy to double back along the links and go down another path. There is no one “right” direction.
2. Seeing and drawing connections
The radial pattern of a mind map makes it easy to see how the information breaks down into different levels. We can easily draw connections between related nodes.
Now, try drawing arrows to connect points that are 3 pages apart on a text file. It’s harder, isn’t it?
3. Visual appeal
The mind map just looks more inviting and appealing.
A dense block of text, on the other hand, is intimidating.
Mind mapping software
I got really excited when mind mapping programmes started appearing, but the quality back then was disappointing. So I stopped using mind maps.
Recently, I decided to take up mind mapping again. And wow, there are so many great mind mapping software out there now. So far, I’ve only tried XMind. I will download and try out the others shortly.
Here’s a quick summary below:
1. iMindMap 5 by Tony Buzan.
Started by the guru himself. I tried an earlier version years ago but it wasn’t that fantastic. But this current version looks to be much improved, though I’ve yet to download it. Starts from USD67, 30-day free trial available.
One of the most popular mind mapping software. It’s written in Java, I find the interface clunky and not aesthetically pleasing. Even their web page is ugly. But hey, I can’t complain about the price tag. Get your free download here.
3. MindManager by MindJet
This slick mind mapping machine stands out with its collaboration features. It is targeted at businesses, as evident from the hefty price tag. There’s even a web-based mind mapping feature called MindJet Connect, but I have trouble getting authenticated. Starts from USD399, 30-day free trial available.
XMind for Individual is a pleasant surprise. It has a simple interface that didn’t take me too long to pick up, with a few features that I appreciated such as graphical markers, the ability to add notes and hyperlinks, and even share your mind maps online.
Best of all, the Individual version is free. I used this nifty software to create the following mind map of a book I just read (titled “The PC is not a typewriter“):
Creating such a mind map helps me to organise my thoughts and ideas. Rearranging the nodes was relatively painless, as was drawing arrows between related ideas.
5. MindMaple (Read the MindMaple review here)
MindMaple is the newest kid on the block. According to their Facebook page, the software was officially launched just a few months ago on 19 Sep 2011. They are currently selling it at a launch discount price of USD99.
The guys at MindMaple have kindly given me a review license key, I will be doing a full review of it very soon.
I’ve got some extra keys to give away, so if you would like to review the software, just get in touch with me.