Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


Mind Mapping in Higher Education

Posted on | October 22, 2015 | No Comments

An underutilized creative technology that enhances the educational experience is a writing process called mind mapping. Mind mapping is a visual form of contemplation and word association that can be used for note taking, journaling, and creative thinking. Connecting words with branching lines and adding colors and images creates a mental dynamism that facilitates getting ideas into concrete form on paper or an electronic document that can be readily reviewed and shared.

This post describes mind maps, how they are used, their value to students, and how they can be used for lectures, class exercises, and brainstorming activities.

What are mind maps?

Inspiration Software, Inc. defines a mind map as “a visual representation of hierarchical information that includes a central idea surrounded by connected branches of associated topics.” Mind maps can be either drawn by hand or designed on computer software application like that offered by Inspiration, Mindjet or Mindmeister. The basic technique draws on the human tendency to make mental connections by word association and the power of writing to stimulate thoughts and creative ideas.

How do they work?

Mind maps start in the middle of a page or document with a central idea and expand outward using keywords on branches. They move from the general to the specific, with details become more defined as the map expands outward. Fewer words are better than phrases or sentences, but every distinct keyword or grouping of words (or image) should be set on its own line. Be sure the lines are the same length as the word/image they support. It is important to economize on space as reaching the perimeter of the document restricts your thinking and means you are literally running out of ideas.

How students can use mind maps

These diagrams can be used in a number of ways. At their best, they help classify ideas or generate new connections between ideas, the very definition of creativity. They can make note taking in classes more efficient, engaging, and fun. Notes taken in mind maps are also easier and faster to review, making studying for a test more efficient. Mind maps can help organize ideas for writing projects as they are basically non-linear outlines. Examine this mind map on Shakespeare.

Another way to use mind maps is to start off a class requesting the students to map out the last class. This facilitates learning by reinforcing key ideas, directs the student’s attention to the class at hand and its topics, and gives the students visible information to share in class. As they are good for getting to details, mind maps are useful for event planning such as class trips, group presentations or graduation parties.

Using mind maps for presentations

Mind maps can be used to present information in class lectures, although certain precautions should be taken. They are inherently personal so other viewers should be guided step-by-step. Displays of mind maps from a computer projected on a screen should be accompanied with specific guidance. First, the principles of the hierarchical structure should be reviewed. The presentation should proceed from the central idea to the details, showing both the “Big picture” was well as the significance of related concepts.

It is efficient to organize the key ideas of the maps in a clockwise fashion starting at 1 o’clock. It also makes the map more intelligible by providing a familiar structure.

Mind maps should converted to jpegs and then to pdfs for additional usability. With a pdf you can highlight a section of the map you want to focus on. Using the mouse you can click and draw squares and rectangles around the words, phrases or images that are relevant to the lecture.

Group brainstorming

Mind maps draw on a whiteboard, blackboard or a large newsprint pads on an easel can be used with groups of students to brainstorm and exchange ideas. This means capturing each person’s thoughts while simultaneously stimulating the group’s best thinking. Words are again organized radially around the center idea. Prioritization can be avoided until subsequent stages, when more sequential or hierarchical structures can be arranged in a new mind map, or a Gantt chart or other form of visual organization. By presenting ideas visually, it is easier for the students to follow and can more readily contribute to the group process.


Mind mapping is a valuable tool for higher education activities. Students can use them for notetaking and reviewing previous lectures. They can also be used for class exercises that stimulate creative thinking. Mind maps have a magnetic quality where ideas attract similar thoughts. Therefore they can be used to increase student concentration and focus.

Faculty can use mind maps to develop class presentations and actually use them to present their lectures by drawing on a board or projecting from a computer on to a screen. Although these diagrams are not immediately useful for communicating ideas, with proper guidance they can be used very effectively. They are also good for reviewing previous lectures or reading assignments. Lastly, they can be used for brainstorming and facilitating student participation.


[1] Images from website. Tony Buzan is generally considered the inventor of mind mapping.



AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is the Professor of Global Media at Hannam University in South Korea. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas and was on the faculty of New York University from 2002-2012. He also taught at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand and was a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii during the 1990s.


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