Digitization trends and the role of mind mapping in higher education.

GUEST COLUMN | by Olin Reams

CREDIT ConceptDraw CS OdessaHigher education continues to evolve hand in hand with technology, and part of that recent evolution involves digitalization. Just as finance and healthcare transactions are increasingly based and stored in the cloud, students can now pull their notes and submit assignments through electronic means. What are the implications of this shift, and are some technology solutions not meeting the needs of higher education providers?

Some technology vendors are not offering value to higher education because there methods of organizing, storing, and improving communication of data is not necessarily better than traditional non-digital methods. When used properly, digital mapping applications are well equipped to stand apart from other solutions and hold the promise of delivering better results than pen and paper alternatives.

Mind mapping is a tested technique for conquering memory tasks and creatively learning because it is a blend of imagery, color, and visual-spatial arrangements. Educators and students that understand the benefits of mind mapping question how it can improve academia through productivity and efficiency gains. Can higher education adapt mind-mapping software to improve methods of retaining, distributing, and organizing information?

Physical note taking, projector slides, and note cards are still prevalent in most higher education settings because the powerful uses of mind-mapping have not been properly recognized. These traditional approaches to learning are not without merits, as they have certainly resulted in educating some great minds. However, academia is still in a transitional age of moving to digital methods and casting off software that is cumbersome and inefficient. Mind-mapping software provides an enticing alternative to improve knowledge management.

Taking Notes the Wrong Way

Students that complete study skills or psychology classes quickly see that traditional note taking is not the best way to learn. Traditional note taking is linear, where ideas are supposed to fall into chronological order, even if the information is presented in a non-linear fashion. Professors aren’t robots, and they might delve into tangents or anecdotes that add some flavor or context to the topic. This disconnect between the note-taking methodology and the presentation of information means students are not

Mind mapping presents a superior approach because it encourages students to take notes in a way that best suits their style of learning. When electronic tools are involved the student can also escape the constraints of the paper notebook and the need to write legibly to notes can be understood. They can click and drag their notes in a way that adds additional context or to simply put together the information in a more intelligent and efficient order. How does this relate to improved retention and performance? Having the ability to reorganize the information on a deeper level encourages engagement and retention because mind mapping drives the user to be actively involved.

Avoiding Paper

Researchers and students do not currently have a unified method for the organization and deployment of their research data for producing papers or lectures. Past generations of college students were told to place all of their research on index cards, which would then be reviewed and catalogued. Index cards worked before the introduction of technology tools, but they often acted as silos where information would not be connected to other points. Mind mapping presents a research organization method that establishes dynamic links between hypothesis and argument and how the collected evidence informs the broader thesis. 

Mind-mapping applications allow researchers to build a central thesis and then link various sub-arguments, scaling down to corresponding supporting arguments. Attachments such as PDFs, links, spreadsheets or video enable researchers to build a more dynamic outline that is easily reconfigured to meet changing needs.

The latest mind-mapping applications enable students and researchers to collaboratively share ideas and incorporate comments or criticism. A lecturer can push mind maps to a presentation with just one click. A PhD student traveling in Vietnam for their dissertation can hop on Skype to share mind maps with their advisor so they can quickly discuss progress and suggest new directions if necessary. Students that use applications such as Evernote can use one click to add mind maps, adding broader detail to their snippets.

Note cards were used by students and researchers to pull information and make it available for presentations, however mind mapping operates on a different plane where knowledge is turned into outlines or presentations, which can result in a final polished piece.

Real Collaboration

It’s impossible to talk about business or higher education technology tools without mentioning the benefits of collaboration. Companies want staff members to use unified data to make decisions, and educators want students to engage with others in discussion and problem solving instead of focusing on their smartphone apps. Professors want to collaborate with colleagues despite geographical or even language constraints to build projects together. Mind mapping meets the needs of all of these stakeholders.

Tools such as Dropbox are simplified collaboration tools that offer a convenient way to store and share information. Mind maps can be thought of as an extension of the information contained in Dropbox stored files, where the content can be continuously updated and refined. Teams that embrace mind mapping will discover it is an evolving knowledge base that contains all facets of a project including responsibilities, updates; due dates, and of course base concepts.

Students that literally see each other in class have a collaboration advantage, but mind-mapping enables researchers in Iceland and Montana to work together seamlessly with the same level of interconnectedness. They can only achieve this level of collaboration through mind mapping tools which allow them to store and organize data and easily communicate.

Any remaining resistance to digitalization in higher education is fading as students and professors are seeing the productivity and efficiency gains. Emerging software such as mind map will serve to streamline information retention, organization, and sharing for students, researchers, and professors.

Olin Reams is General Manager of ConceptDraw from CS Odessa.