How to Study with Mind Maps

Learning is a central human activity and has important implications for school, career, and life. It is the foundation for success in and enjoyment of life. But, in all of your years of attending school, did anyone ever teach you how to learn? Probably not. This book will teach you how!

Concise Learning is about turning studying into learning and about turning information into knowledge. This book will teach you how to make this significant transformation in your studies through a learning method that involves visual mapping, critical thinking, and problem solving. Don’t fret; this isn’t a book on learning theory. Rather, this book will provide you with a simple and intuitive, yet proven and powerful, method for learning and managing multiple sources of information. In other words, this book will serve you as a learning blueprint that you can apply immediately.

With so much to learn, you simply can’t absorb everything. Some information will be lost. What’s really important is that you have control over what information gets lost and what gets retained. Struggling students get bogged down in unfocused and unproductive reading, copying, and repetition, instead of focusing on key concepts and the pursuit of a complete picture, which really drives successful learning. Successful students apply an information filter early in the learning process because they know they can’t possibly absorb all of the information presented, nor do they have to. They select what is important to learn. They make a conscious decision to absorb only the key concepts, which in turn enables them to learn the course material better and faster and to be able to apply it to other areas of learning as well.

With Concise Learning Method (CLM), learning is achieved via a five-phase process (looking for puzzle pieces) that involves meaningfully organizing and connecting key concepts in a visual map (putting together the puzzle pieces), critically thinking, and asking key questions.

CLM allows you to readily consolidate information from multiple sources and look at it from multiple perspectives in a highly visual, interactive format. Further, it allows you to process the information as you encounter it rather than waiting for all of the “puzzle pieces” to fall into place. This free-form learning allows the brain to merge logic and creativity to enable maximum learning.

Visual maps are so powerful and work so well because they are based on memory principles that help you learn and retain new information. They are effective because they force you to be active, focus, concentrate, and think; they contain visual cues that strengthen memory; they provide connections and structure to organize information logically and meaningfully; and they provide a way to personalize information according to your interests and what makes sense to you.

The 5Ps – the five phases of learning – and the 4 steps within each of the 5Ps guide your thought processes, as you’re learning.

The 5 phases of CLM (illustrated from the perspective of a formal student, but are relevant for anyone) are:

  1. Preview (preview the lecture material): Before class starts, preview the lecture material (textbook, lecture notes, etc.) to become familiar with the lecture topic and unfamiliar terms and concepts. This phase results in a high-level visual map (outline) that serves as the initial framework to organize and connect key concepts and make them relevant to your mind. The preview phase also prepares your mind for the information to be discussed in the lecture, resulting in increased interest, participation, and comprehension during the lecture.
  2. Participate (participate actively in lectures): Active engagement in the lecture results in a revised key concepts framework (visual map) and further solidifies meaningful learning.
  3. Process (process all lecture-related information into your visual map): Process the information from lecture, textbook, and other resources immediately or shortly after the lecture by organizing and connecting key concepts into a further refined and more detailed visual map. In this phase, you’re essentially processing all information in a very personal way so that it is meaningful to you. This helps transfer information from short-term memory to long-term memory.
  4. Practice (practice by solving new problems): Don’t simply read through practice examples where the solution has been worked out for you. Also, don’t stick with repetitive practice examples. The key here is to apply what you’ve learned to situations you haven’t encountered before. Use your existing knowledge to tackle new problems of all sorts – concrete, abstract, factual, conceptual, and procedural. Approach practicing problems as though you were taking an exam by working examples you’ve never seen before. This phase gives you “hands on” experience, helps you review, and further solidifies what you’ve learned.
  5. Produce (produce results and new ideas): As you critically think about new information, questions, and problems, your fresh perspective will result in a unique product of your understanding, concepts, experiences, ideas, and reasoning. Your mind will, in effect, produce new knowledge that is already well integrated with your existing knowledge.

Within each phase, the 4 following steps encourage active interaction and dialogue between the course materials, your visual map, and your thinking.

  1. Identify key concepts: You decide what’s important and what you want to learn. You are not a passive recipient of information. Rather, you are an active agent in your learning and must determine what information you want to receive in order to learn best. Key concepts could be simple facts and ideas but most commonly represent a set of facts, ideas, attributes, or characteristics.
  2. Meaningfully organize and connect key concepts using a visual map: You decide how you want to learn. You are not a passive recorder of information who simply memorizes key concepts. Rather, you construct your own meaning by organizing and connecting the key concepts in a meaningful framework (visual map). The visual map you compose reveals your understanding and deepens and extends your thinking. Notice that the information has now been accurately captured, reduced to key concepts, connected to other key concepts, and meaningfully organized.
  3. Think critically: By organizing and connecting key concepts, you clear your thoughts and sharpen your understanding so you can think critically about what you’re learning. Critical thinking is a cognitive process that appears in several categories of the cognitive process dimension (see section 1.4) and involves reasoning things out on the basis of evidence and valid conclusions. To think critically means you understand and reconstruct what you hear and read into your own thinking and experience. The end result is a new creation, where someone else’s thinking now exists in your mind within your own framework.
  4. Ask key questions: Critical thinking, in turn, allows you to develop and ask key questions that guide and propel your inquiry and problem solving throughout the 5Ps process. Key questions are questions that investigate information and experience, probe reasons and evidence, and examine interpretations and conclusions.

You know you’re on the right path when you’re actively observing and discovering, asking and answering questions, thinking, understanding and retaining what you’re learning, applying what you’ve learned, and, most importantly, feeling engaged and interested.