Blended Learning: How Mind Mapping Can Help with Knowledge Retrieval and the Development of Critical Thinking Skills

Ruth Tarrant

25th September 2020

Mind mapping, or concept-mapping, is a great tool for knowledge retrieval and for helping students develop some critical thinking skills. Here are some thoughts on this technique which can be used for classroom-based, online and blended learning

The theory of Mind mapping

There is an excellent summary of the benefits of mind mapping and visual representations of material in Caviglioli's "Dual Coding with Teachers".

In a nutshell, evidence suggests that combining words and images / visuals is a really effective way to facilitate learning. If the same information is presented to you in a variety of ways, you are able to access more "working memory capacity". Psychology teachers will undoubtedly recognise this outcome from Baddeley's work on memory!

Using visual representations of material, especially via mind or concept-mapping can help student learning in a variety of ways:

  • draws attention to the most important elements, reducing distraction and confusion
  • can trigger links to prior knowledge
  • manages "cognitive load"
  • organising information in a non-hierarchical way can help it to "stick" in the long-term memory
  • reassures students that they can create meaning and interest

The practice

Teachers are facing new challenges in the current classroom and learning environment. It's not quite as simple as handing out A3 sheets of blank paper to students and getting them to produce mind maps! Even the sharing of colourful pens and sticky notes is challenging in many institutions. You can still mind map and concept map the "old way" (although it's also worth bearing in mind that teachers may need to model how to do this!).

But, there are an increasing number of technological solutions out there, many of which are collaborative, and many of which can work with students learning remotely at home or using devices in your classroom. It's a great way for students to engage actively with their learning, and you to quickly check their comprehension if they share their work with you online. It's also great in terms of "differentiation by outcome". Here's a selection of web-based tools you could take a look at:

  • Bubbl.us - this is good in terms of minimal on-screen distraction on the interface, works on mobile and desktop devices, easy to export work as a JPG or PNG or text file, and you can collaborate with others in the premium version
  • www.mindmup.com - similar features to Bubbl.us but links nicely with Google applications allowing you to connect Google Docs or Sheets
  • www.mindmeister.com - this is one of the more popular online mapping sites, and it's primary focus seems to be collaboration to produce maps (so students in class and at home could work together), whether you're on Mac or Windows or Linux; with mindmeister you can also convert your map into a slideshow

Ruth Tarrant

Ruth has been an enthusiastic Head of Economics and Politics for many years, having taught in a variety of schools and at university level. She is also a Senior Examiner. Ruth is passionate about boosting the quality of teaching and learning across all subjects in schools and colleges.

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