Mind Mapping – Tony Buzan, Learning leader

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It was with some sadness that I read of the death of Tony Buzan last week. It’s possible you have never heard of him and yet will be familiar with the technique he discovered to help students learn, Mind Mapping. He was born in the UK in 1942 studied Psychology, English, Mathematics and Science at the University of British Columbia.  In addition to his lifelong association with Mind Mapping he worked for Mensa, set up the World Memory Championships in 1991 with Raymond Keene, and found time to write over 140 books. Two of which sit on my bookshelf, both furthered my knowledge and fuelled my interest in learning, memory and how the brain works. These are Use your Head and The Mind Map book.

Curiosity  

When Tony Buzan was at Junior school his curiosity was sparked by a boy who had an excellent knowledge of nature, in particular birds but repeatedly failed tests that were set in school. This led him to question what intelligence was. And although I hadn’t read this at the time it was something I had also been interested in. Society had/has somehow lost sight of the fact that people are different, falling into the trap of praising and promoting those that were “clever” and pitying those that were not. It seemed far more sensible to break intelligence down into a series of biological/neurological qualities, and in 1983, when Howard Gardner published his book on Multiple Intelligence Theory this made perfect sense to me and provided evidence that Buzan was on to something.

Mind Mapping – does it work?

According to Tony Buzan, “Mind Mapping is a two-dimensional note-taking technique with which a Mind Map is made using all the relevant knowledge about a specific subject.”

I have written about how to Mind Map before, so please follow the links if you want to find out more – Mind Mapping unplugged – The De Vinci code – Mind Mapping to pass exams.

Remarkably there is little evidence to prove that Mind Mapping works, academics have focused instead on Concept Mapping, a hierarchical diagram that links conceptual knowledge, but the principles that underpin Mind Mapping are consistent with much of what we know is effective in learning.

This quote from Tony Buzan offers a deeper insight into why it works.

“I used to take formal notes in lines of blue, and underline the key words in red, and I realised I needed only the key words and the idea. Then to bring in connections, I drew arrows and put in images and codes. It was a picture outside my head of what was inside my head – ‘Mind Map’ is the language my brain spoke.”

In this narrative there are three important principles identified. Firstly, use only key words, this process of reduction is hugely valuable in learning. When the brain has to select one or two words it engages in a process of reflection and review, reading and re-reading asking which one word should I pick, and why. Secondly connections, it is well accepted that the brain finds storing unrelated chunks of information difficult, a Mind Map requires the student to link information and in so doing forces a connection. And lastly, arguably one of the most powerful, the use of images. The brain appears to have a limitless capacity to store pictures, the brighter, more colourful and stranger the better.

In summary, it’s not that Mind Mapping was invented by Tony Buzan and before we knew little about the best techniques to aid learning, what he did was pull together much of what we now know to be effective using as inspiration the drawings of the Leonardo de Vinci and created a tool that requires the student to know little of the theory behind how it works but by preparing one engages them in a series of very effective techniques that will help them learn.

Critics

It would be wrong to suggest that everything Tony Buzan said or did was correct, he has been responsible for promoting what many now recognise as pop psychology that has since been proved to be incorrect. For example

“Did you know that you use less than 1% of your brain? The good news is that Mind Mapping can help you to access the other 99%.”

However, he also said

“Learning how to learn is life’s most important skill.”

And in this world rich with information, AI and robotics, this may be the only thing that will keep us ahead of the game.

Listen to Tony Buzan talking about Mind Maps

RIP Tony Buzan learning leader.

 

 

 

 

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Sleep, picture, talk – learn smarter

Three stories caught my eye this month that I thought might be of interest.

They are all ways in which new research is providing evidence as to how it is possible to learn more effectively, a kind of smart brain learning.

 

 

Sleep is good for study

A new study from the University of Notre Dame suggest  that sleeping soon after learning new material is best for recall. This clearly has implications for students in those latter stages of revision and arguably the night before the exam.  The answer it would seem is that you can study right up to the last minute (probably memorising  facts) as long as you are getting a good night’s sleep after wards.

Although it is not known with certainty why sleep is so good, it is believed that it brings some form of consolidation of the facts, a kind of updating and reorganising of the brain while you rest.

The idea is not that new, this research was out in 2004

Pictures are better than words

This might come as no surprise to people who have read this blog before but it is reassuring that there is some science to support the view that the brain is more effective with pictures than words.

A story from the BBC about a group of people who had their brainwaves scanned while completing a series of tasks, individually and in groups, to see if data visualisation, presenting information visually, in this case a series of mind maps can help. The results showed that when tasks were presented visually rather than using traditional text, individuals used arround 20% less cognitive resources. In other words, their brains were working a lot less hard.

The research was carried out by Mindlab International, an independent research company that specialises in neurometrics – the science of measuring patterns of brain activity through EEG, eye tracking and skin conductivity, which tracks emotions.

This is not just another plug for mind maps, they are just one way in which information is presented visually. When reading a book or study manual, put information in boxes, use graphs, draw people and objects, make it look visual, it will all help.

The first sign of madness – talking to yourself out loud

Gary Lupyan, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison often found himself talking out loud so he thought it might try to find out if it helped, and guess what it did.

In one experiment, volunteers were shown 20 pictures of various objects and asked to look for a specific one, such as a banana. In half of the trials, participants were asked to repeatedly say what they were looking for out loud to themselves, the others were asked to remain silent. The researchers found self-directed speech helped people find objects more quickly by about 50 to 100 milliseconds.

Most people talk to themselves when studying, but they don’t say the words out loud they keep it inside their heads. What this research suggests is that what you should do is say the words out loud, use different voices even. I know it sounds strange but it does work. Okay maybe you should do it behind closed doors; you don’t want to upset the neighbors…..

 

 

 

Deliberate reading – How to read technical content

In his book Five Minds for the Future Howard Gardner identifies one mind as the Synthesising Mind. He describes this as the mind that takes informationfrom disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesiser and also to other persons.

We live in an age where knowledge is not hard to find, just Google something and you will find no shortage of information on any subject. The skill or mind that you need to develop is to be better able to filter information focusing only on what is important and ignoring what is not. 

But there is just too much!

As a student at some point you will find yourself having to read a book that contains masses of information that you need to learn but given the volume probably not able to absorb. You will need to filter the information, reduce it down into manageable chunks that can be understood and made sense.

As Gardner suggests, this understanding is initially for your benefit but eventually you will have to explain it to others, so the understanding needs to be deeper than simply knowing.

So we need a way in which you can both read and learn at a deep level. Children read instinctively using their finger, putting it under the words they are trying to say. Of course when they go to school using your finger to learn is not encouraged, so they stop. But there is good reason that children do this, you need to focus your attention and pointing or underlining is one way of doing it. Below is a step by step guide as to how to read technical stuff or in fact anything that you need to have a far better understanding than a few random facts.

How to read with your synthesising mind

1. Find the content page in your book and very loosely mind map or write out the chapter headings; see my previous blog on mind mapping. Do this IN THE BOOK, okay you will have to write on the book and that might feel uncomfortable, but you need the information all together and the book is the best place to store it. This will help you gain an overview of what is to come. Your brain will already begin to put some shape to what you are about to learn and begin to make linkages.

2. Read each chapter, but underline the key points, try to underline key words and not huge paragraphs. This in itself will help you start to focus on what is important. Yes it will slow you down but you are not just reading you are learning. Knowing what the key points are is not easy so you will have to concentrate, however don’t spend forever, often your gut instinct is the right one.

3. Write in the margin your understanding of the key points or even just copy out what is in the book. The purpose of this is to reinforce the knowledge and to make it stand out even more. It is better if you have to think about what is said in the context of what you are trying to learn and write it out in your own words. However you don’t always have time, so never be afraid to simply copy.

4. Mind map or summarise all the key points that you have written in the margin within the chapter at the front of that chapter. This is your chance to show how it all fits together. Double check your summary with the one that is in the back of the chapter, this will make sure you don’t miss anything. Now of course what you could do is just read the summaries at the end of each chapter and if you are really short of time this can be very effective, however you will not learn from this, but it can be a better way of getting a more detailed overview than you would from the contents page.

5. Look at each of the chapter summaries and add to your initial overview of the book or simply re write the whole thing. This final summary or mind map will help consolidate your thoughts on what the really important points were, the key messages and aid your understanding.

Also in a few years if you pick this book off your shelf, or when you come to revise, it will be this summary that will bring everything flooding back.

And just in case your curious – the other four minds are

The Disciplined Mind

The disciplined mind has mastered at least one way of thinking – a distinctive mode of cognition that characterizes a specific scholarly discipline, craft or profession.

The Creating Mind

The creating mind breaks new ground. It puts forth new ideas, poses unfamiliar questions, conjures up fresh ways of thinking, arrives at unexpected answers.

The Respectful Mind

The respectful mind notes and welcomes differences between human individuals and between human groups, tries to understand these “others,” and seeks to work effectively with them.

The Ethical Mind

The ethical mind ponders the nature of one’s work and the needs and desires of the society in which he lives. This mind conceptualizes how workers can serve purposes beyond self-interest and how citizens can work unselfishly to improve the lot of all.

A beautiful mind or just a different one – Personalised learning

My Daughter is sitting her mock exams at the moment, my wife is taking her to school just in case the train breaks down! And I have just finished teaching revision; only the dog seems unaffected by this November/December exams season.

Watching my Daughter study was interesting, she has discovered that you don’t need a white board to make notes, and just like John Nash (A beautiful Mind) has been writing on our dining room windows with a marker pen.  She also created a game where the answer was under a flap of paper and found that she learned more effectively when teaching someone else, me. Go on ask me a question about respiration or stem cells…..

I have written on the merits of learning styles before,”learning styles don’t work or do they,” but in that blog I focused more on how you process information rather than using differing methods to learn. For example making notes using mind maps rather than in a linear format or writing on the window rather than on paper…..  Different people learn in different ways and at different speeds. This is why there is a big push in education to personalise learning, to make it sufficiently flexible for each individual to learn in their own way.

The argument is that in the last century education was delivered in a style needed to prepare people to work in factories. It required little in the way of individual thought just the ability to perform simple repetitive tasks, the same as everyone else. As a result pupils were all taught in the same way, sat in rows, repeating the same thing over and over again, and dressing alike. Okay a bit Orwellian and not entirely true, there have always been great teachers, but you get the point.

But now we live in a world that is constantly changing, problem solving is highly praised and keeping up to date with the latest information or developments is essential. So learning needs to change.

Different ways to learn

There are of course many ways to learn, but below are a few tips and hints.

  •  Making notes – writing something down is an incredibly powerful method of learning. Some people like mind maps, others prefer lists or bullet points and why not try Concept Mapping. The key point, just write it down.
  • Cards – reducing down what you have to learn and put it onto small cards. This is great for individuals who like to rearrange information, putting the most important first or eliminating what has been mastered.
  • Get a learning habit – make a routine out of what you do so that you perform a task without thinking. Learn one new fact before you go to bed, always have a book to hand or have notes on your mobile so that when you are on the train everyday you can study for 20/30 minutes.
  • Talk out loud – okay people may think you are a bit strange but listening to your own voice can really help.

Of course not all of the above will work for everyone that’s why you are you, an individual, the secret is not to give up if one method does not work.

Ps other great films about learning

Good will Hunting and the best of all Dead Poets Society

Let me know your favourites?

Mind Mapping unplugged – How to Mind Map from beginning to end

Another month and another MasterClass live on-line lecture, this time on “How to Mind Map” don’t worry this is the last one for a while. I have blogged before about Mind Mapping, explaining the principles and how to draw one. So this presentation was to look in more detail as to how you should do it, starting with a text book and working through the various versions until you get to the “overview map” at the end.

Below is a note of the key learning’s from this presentation.

Steps In Mind Mapping – assuming you know nothing about the subject

1. Mind map the Contents page – identify key words

Firstly take the text book that you want to study from and find the contents page. Use the headings on this page as your guide, these should form the basis of your first map.

This will be very simple summary of the key themes radiating from a central image or word. Mentally stay away from the detail and just record the words. At this stage it is little more than black and white spider diagram.

 

 

2. Redraw the Mind Map – asking what is this chapter/section/word all about, what does it mean?

Look at the completed map and redraw, this time though just flick through the chapters looking for the main headings in the book. Notice terms that may be similar, perhaps showing that they are parts of the same topic but have been split up into two or even three chapters simply because of the amount that has to be learned. Add to the detail of the map using some of the content from the book and any syllabus guidance that may be given. At this stage you need to reduce the number of branches coming from the central theme.

3. Study each chapter

You can’t get away from this part I am afraid, you now have to study each chapter or attend a course that will prepare you for the exam. But you are doing so with some understanding as to what you will be studying and how it fits together.

4. Redraw individual chapters in colour

This is when we produce out first real Mind Map. Redraw the key topics, in colour showing how they all relate, use images and of course your imagination. Key topics at this stage may be chapters or combinations of chapters. At the end of the chapters of many study manuals there will be some questions, or at least there should be! Add these to your Mind Map so that you know which topics have been tested. This will also help direct your studies, mapping out the questions you should be doing.

5. Complete the final overview map

And finally take all of these individual Mind Maps and complete an overview map, one map that links all of the individual maps together, this will help you see the BIG picture, perfect for revision.

Hope that helps let me know how you get on….

More free content- EDU You Tube  

The availability of lectures and guidance on-line just keeps coming.  You Tube are now providing free content to help you study, check out EDU You Tube.

 

 

The De Vinci code – Mind Mapping to pass exams

Leonardo de Vinci was one of the first people to link words and pictures, using their combination to help with both learning and creativity. It also left behind a permanent record of what he had been thinking that could be used as a reminder for him and others, a set of notes!

Leonardo died in 1519 and it was not until the late 1960’s when Tony Buzan refined the technique and gave it a name “Mind Mapping. “

What is a mind Map?

According to Tony Buzan, mind maps are an expression of radiant thinking and a natural function of the human mind, a powerful graphical technique which provides a universal key to unlocking the potential of the brain. A nice description but I am not sure I understand what they are just from that.

In the context of making notes, I would define a mind map as a way of recording key words that, unlike linear notes, start with a central theme that is often an image, and have content that radiates out from this central theme like branches from a tree. They should be colourful and the note maker should use their imagination in drawing the map, bringing in images and showing connections in any way they wish.

How to draw a mind map

There are and should be few rules to mind mapping as the individual should bring as much of him or herself to the process as possible. But there are some guidelines.

1. In the centre of your paper, draw a square, a circle, or an image that will help you focus on the core issue of the mind map. Inside it, write the name of the subject or topic you are studying. It is probably best to have the paper in landscape rather than portrait.

2. What are the main points or substantial topics that relate to your central theme? Draw branches from the circle, like branches from a tree, to these sub topics. Print the key words on these branches, use block capitals if your writing is not so neat. You can also use geometric shapes for these new areas, or sketch a small picture. Why not do both?

3. The structure will broadly follow the key words that you highlighted from the text. You may, however, find that some of the topics or key words lead you to make connections that at first you did not see. Make the associations and don’t be afraid to re-draw the mind map if it gets a little messy.

4. Begin branching off into smaller but related topics. Think fast! Your mind may work best in 5-7 minute intense periods. Using different coloured pens to show the relationship between separate yet related topics can be very powerful. You can use symbols as well as pictures if that seems to come more naturally.

5. Mind maps work to a great degree because of your choice of keywords and the fact that they are short and to the point. Don’t feel that you have to expand on these; you don’t.

6. Let your thoughts and imagination go wild when it comes to the images. Although a mind map is logical and so requires you to use the left side of your brain, it also requires the use of colours and images, both of which involve large amounts of right side brain activity. Don’t worry about how good at drawing you are. You don’t need to be particularly good at art; it just needs to be legible and only to you.

Check this out  it is a really helpful and practical guide to using mind maps to make and organise notes.

If you want to hear Tony Buzan talk about mind maps, just click on the link to the right of this page in the Blogroll.

I personally find mind maps one of the most effective learning and exam tools I have ever come across. A map is much more than a simple note taking technique used to record content. It presents that content in such a way that aids learning. You will recognise how topics inter-relate and so begin to understand the subject, not just remember it. It is also, as the name suggests, a map: it shows you the whole subject, not just one part of it, so that you can see where you need to go next. And, like a map, you can take many different routes to get to your destination and, in so doing, learn more about the subject. It is also ideal for revision and is much easier to review than traditional notes largely because of the pictures

Try something new today

Some people say that mind mapping does not work for them and that may be true. But I think that if you had never been to school and were trying to learn or solve a problem, as Leonardo discovered all those years ago you would more than likely draw pictures and link those pictures with words than record your thoughts in a black and white linear format, so give it a go.

An accountancy student blogs about her experience using mind maps to help her pass exams.

 A general blog about mind mapping