September 7, 2011

Using Mind Maps as a Teaching and Learning Tool to Promote Student Engagement

By: in Teaching and Learning

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Creating an environment that engages students in the learning journey is not always easy. Sometimes as faculty members we ask ourselves, “Are we taking this learning journey by ourselves?” Several years ago as I began my scholarly exploration of the utility of mind mapping as a teaching and learning tool to foster critical thinking, my colleague and I instituted a mind mapping learning activity which has helped to promote student engagement in the classroom.

So what is mind mapping? Mind mapping is a learning technique which uses a non-linear approach to learning that forces the learner to think and explore concepts using visuospatial relationships flowing from a central theme to peripheral branches which can be inter- related.

According to Buzan and Buzan, a mind map should be drawn on blank paper that is larger than standard 8 ½ by 11 inch paper. The rationale behind using a large sheet of paper is that it allows the student the opportunity to break away from the boundaries established by standard sized paper. The medium for drawing the mind map is usually colored pens or pencils. Students begin by drawing an image in the center of the paper that reflects the central theme, or topic, of the mind map which is to be created. By placing this central image in the center of the paper it allows the student 360 degrees of freedom to develop their mind map. Next, the student draws main branches with key words extending from this central image. The branches represent different categories which the student perceives as being relevant to the content of the key concept of the mind map. From these main branches, sub-branches are created.

One key tenet of the mind map is that each of the branches and sub-branches should contain pictures to aid in recalling the information. These sub-branches of key words or pictures can be linked together resulting in the integration of different parts of the mind map. Recently, many on-line computer versions of mind mapping have emerged such as iMindMap (Tony Buzan), MindMeister (MindMeister Labs), Visio (Microsoft), and MindNode (MindNode Software). A key question which needs to be further investigated with these online programs is, “do they limit the creator’s creativity in developing the mind map because of software limitations?”

While several investigators are exploring the scientific merits of mind mapping as a tool to develop critical thinking one practical way we have begun to use mind mapping to promote student engagement in the classroom is via two different class assignments.

Assignment 1.
For students in our graduate physical therapy program the challenge always exists between balancing the volume of information they must know with the need to practice the application of their craft — the “hands on” aspect of the profession.

In order to meet this challenge in our neurological course work we instituted mind mapping as a course requirement. All students are required to generate a mind map for all class readings covering the key concepts within the readings. These mind maps are submitted for class participation credit, but they must be handed in prior to the class meeting date for which the material will be covered. This is done to ensure that the students, at a minimum, read and acknowledge the key areas within the readings. During the class period students are able to build out their mind maps with concepts and information acquired during the class presentation (lecture, discussion, small group activities, and laboratory experiences).

We have found that by requiring students to generate mind maps on pre-class reading material they are more prepared to engage in class activities. This in turn enables us as instructors to spend more time helping them explore the “hands on” techniques of their craft, as well as critical reasoning and communication skills.

Here’s an example of mind map a student created on a chapter associated with clinical decision making regarding patient management. View Mind Map »

Assignment 2
For our post-professional doctoral students integrating related topics that must be explored in order to fully address a research question is not so easy. Linking or connecting topics, theories and developing a theoretical framework often hinder students’ progression. Frequently they look to their advisor to make the connections for them and to tell them what to do.

In order to assist students in their learning journey, we have introduced mind mapping as a tool to help students explore diverse topical areas and develop connections and links between them. Each student’s research question of interest becomes the central theme of the mind map and, along with their committee members, they begin identifying the branches to be explored. As students conduct their evidence-based review of the literature in each of these branching areas they begin to suggest sub branches that then can be linked. Many students suggest that using the mind map strategy supported their ability to effectively explore and integrate the diverse areas of their research topic and create flow and linkage amongst ideas when writing their research proposal or integrated paper.

So while many are investigating the use of mind maps as a teaching and learning tool to foster critical thinking and clinical reasoning in students, it can be utilized as a tool to promote student engagement as demonstrated in the assignments above. The utility of the mind map as a teaching and learning tool is only limited by our ability as instructors to shape its use to meet the desired learning outcome.

Genevieve Pinto Zipp, PT, EdD, is an associate professor in the Department of Graduate Programs in Health Sciences at Seton Hall University’s School of Health and Medical Sciences.


  • Akinoglu, O., Yasar, Z. (2007). The effects of note taking in science education through the mind mapping technique on students’ attitudes, academic achievement, and concept learning. Journal of Baltic Science Education, Vol. 6, No. 3, 34-42.
  • Brinkman, A. (2003). Graphical knowledge display-mind mapping and concept mapping as efficient tools on mathematic education. Mathematics Review Education, 16, 35-48.
  • D’Antoni, A. V., & Pinto Zipp, G. (2005). Applications of the mind map learning technique in chiropractic education. The Journal of Chiropractic Education, 19, 53-54.
  • D’Antoni, A. V., & Pinto Zipp, G. (2006). Applications of the mind map learning technique in chiropractic education: A pilot study and literature review. Journal of Chiropractic Humanities. 13. 2-11.
  • D’Antonia, A. (2009). Relationship between mind map learning strategy and critical thinking in medical students. (Doctoral dissertation, Seton Hall University, 2009). Walsh Library, Seton Hall University.
  • Farrand, P., Hussain, F., & Hennessy, E. (2002). The efficacy of the ‘mind map’ study technique. Medical Education, 36, 426-431.
  • Mueller, A., Johnston, M., & Bligh, D. (2002). Joining mind mapping and care planning to enhance student critical thinking and achieve holistic nursing care. Nursing Diagnosis, 13, 24-27.
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    Sean | September 7, 2011

    Mind Mapping seems to be growing in popularity all the time. It is interesting to see how different methods of learning work for different people. Here is another interesting article about how Mind Mapping can 'transform' learning

    lab | September 7, 2011

    I teach geology to non-science majors who are poorly prepared for college and hate science. Most of my students view science as a series of definitions to be memorized with no connection between them. No understanding, just memorization. I think I will have them make a study guide for themselves using mind mapping. It will force them to think about connections and – gasp — look at the material at home!

    Gary K. Probst | September 7, 2011

    I have developed cogniive map/miond maps that reveal what information must be obtain to understand a term or topic. They can be found in my only lecture I have given at conferences at the following address.

    GaryK. Probst

    Toni Krasnic | September 8, 2011

    Great article and case study!

    In addition to the programs listed, there are many others. For a comprehensive list and preview of all mind mapping programs visit Most recently, mind mapping programs have also been developed for iPad and iPhone, and other handhelds, which can communicate with desktop programs. This is especially useful for mind mappers that don’t carry a laptop with them everywhere. My favorite is iThoughts. One additional resource that is especially useful is, where mind mappers share their maps for free.

    Bill Jarrard | January 16, 2012

    Congratulations on your effective use of Mind Mapping for student engagement, and thanks for sharing.

    In my lecturing on Creativity and Innovation at Masters level in a couple of universities and several countries over more than a decade I always incorporated Mind Maps into the material. Mind Mapping instruction would be done in the second lecture (of 12) and participants were graded on the use of Mind Maps in assignments and in class as a way to 'encourage' their use. Inevitably not everyone took to it, but my experience was that well over 90% gave it a good try and many continued to Mind Map after the course.

    With software we use MindGenius and iMindMap depending on the task, with iMindMap clearly producing the most Buzan like maps. We also encourage hand-drawn Mind Maps to spark the flow of creativity and build brain flexibility, which can be stifled if the mapper is not skilled on a computer. You can see hundreds of Mind Map examples at… and learn more about the software at

    Again thanks for sharing your experince

    Bill Jarrard

    Philippe Packu | April 15, 2012

    Great article! About your question "do software limits the creator’s creativity in developing the mind map?” I wrote several articles about the subject on my blog (http: and I'm trying to demystify this false idea with my creative software based mind maps ( You are welcome to have a look and share your comments. I will be happy to follow your work with students.

    Louise | October 19, 2012

    For students writing an essay can often mean trying to piece together a patchwork of fragments: hand-outs from lectures, notes from books, a quotation here, a theory there. The more you read around your subject, the more of these fragments you end up with. Not being able to see past those fragments can turn any essay into a stressful ordeal. But this software for Spark Space really helps with all the stres.

    Essay Writer from Spark Space helps you to string those fragments together visually, mapping out your arguments and ideas so you can see how things fit together. You can then look past those fragments and see your essay taking shape before you even begin writing it!

    Take a look


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