Workplace changes were forcing me to learn yet another new technology and I was feeling a bit discouraged.  Then I had one of those “ah ha” moments when I remembered how easily I prepared for my MCSE exams a decade earlier using mind maps.  For some reason I quit using them; I realized I could apply those same learning skills again.

During those days when the MCSE (Microsoft Certified System Engineer) certification was so much in vogue, I had determined to get certified through self study.  I pulled it off in about a year of effort; at that time it consisted of six exams on subjects such as networking and SQL Server administration.  It cost me nothing but time as my employer paid for the exams.  I  had a set of study books and mind mapped every chapter.

I think most readers have at least some familiarity with what a mind map is.  Here’s a mind map I created recently from a chapter in a book about blogging.

Mind map about blogging

Tony Buzan, the inventor of mind mapping, says:

When you use Mind Maps on a daily basis, you will find that your life becomes more productive, fulfilled, and successful on every level. There are no limits to the number of thoughts, ideas and connections that your brain can make, which means that there are no limits to the different ways you can use Mind Maps to help you.

Six Benefits of Mind Mapping

1.  Mind-mapping helps you focus when studying

We all do it. We read half a page and then realize we haven’t absorbed a word. When your mind is actively searching for a key concept to add a node on a mind map, it engages your brain to pay attention.

2.  Mind-mapping forces you to pick out the big ideas

Most technical books are logically organized into chapters and sections. I usually make the chapter title the central node of the map and then create major sub-nodes from the section headings.  If there is material that doesn’t interest me I skip it.  I then scan each section for sub-sections and key points.  These become third and fourth tier nodes.

It’s similar to taking notes the traditional way except it’s nonlinear.  You can jump around in the chapter, add auxiliary ideas, go back, rearrange nodes, insert images, icons or change colors to emphasize key ideas.

3.  Mind-mapping creates hooks for your memory

Instead of pages of notes, mind maps are made up of keywords and short phrases, which are easier to remember. By linking each word to the next, you create a natural association, or hook, between concepts.  Adding images and color, your notes aren’t a page of drab sameness.  If preparing for an exam, I find myself able to remember the overall shape and color of a mind map, and usually the details also emerge from the recesses of my memory.

In fact, as I write this, I can still visualize some of the maps I created for the MCSE exams some years ago.

4.  Mind-mapping is fun

You can be creative while you learn.  Have fun adding images that spark your memory.  Adding images and color is analogous to bolding and highlighting in traditional note taking.

5.  Mind-mapping activates different learning styles

Learning styles are generally grouped as visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (physical).  When you create a mind map while you learn new material, you certainly activate your visual learning style.  But you also engage your “hands-on” learning as you draw and create your mind map “picture” using paper or a computer.

6.  Mind-mapping benefits are proven

During that MCSE study period I used paper and colored pens to create mind maps. Now I use a program called SimpleMind™.  There may be free tools, but the price is reasonable and SimpleMind™ works on all my devices: Mac, Windows, iPad, and iPhone.  It uses Dropbox for network storage so I can edit or view my latest mind maps from anywhere.  The example map shown was created using this tool, which I have no financial incentive to promote by-the-way.

I have a pattern of learning a useful technique and then forgetting or dropping it in pursuit of the next shiny thing. This time I’m determined to remember past successes and capitalize on the proven worth of mind maps to continue getting the benefits.