Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mind Map Software and the 3 Main Learning Styles

By Michael R Tipper

Let me start by asking you a question - do you know what your learning style is? Did you know you had a learning style? Everyone has their own unique way of absorbing and learning information and over the last 40 years or so a variety of different models of learning style have cropped up. In this article I shall introduce you to the basic learning styles and show you how the proper use of the right Mind Map software can allow you to tap into all of them.

First of all let me give you a quick lesson in learning styles. We make sense of the world using our five senses - what we see, hear, feel, taste and smell. We also use those senses to learn about ourselves, our environment and about new information so when we started going to school it is our senses that we used to gather and absorb what we were learning. The three senses that started to dominate our learning as we went through our education were the things we saw, the things we heard and the things we physically did. Our reliance on our taste buds and sense of smell dropped off rather rapidly as there isn't much to be picked up from a text book on the Napoleonic wars by liking it or sniffing its dusty pages! That is not to say that we don't learn using these senses (how would chefs and the manufacturers of deodorant survive!) but just that text book type learning doesn't tap into them.

So we are left with three main ways to process information and in Learning Style Speak these have become known as our Visual (what we see). Auditory (what we hear) and Kinesthetic (what we do) learning styles. Research has shown that whilst we may have the ability to tap into all three learning styles, we generally have a preference. I for example am someone with a strong visual preference because I like to see what it is I am learning. I struggle to understand, absorb and retain something that I can only listen to. I can learn physical stuff e.g. martial arts moves but it takes me a long time to get it into my body and I prefer to see the moves in order to try and copy them.

What this research has also uncovered is that though we may have a preference for one of those styles, we will still learn far more effectively if we incorporate all three into our learning and thinking - and this is where using Mind Map software can help tap into our visual, auditory and kinesthetic learning styles.

So let's start with the easy one first. A Mind Map is a graphical representation of our thought process because it has images, it is visually stimulating and you can see the relationship between the main themes and detail branches. As someone who has a strong visual preference, Mind Maps are perfect for me. Mind Mapping software also comes into its own in this style because it is so easy to create a map and add images in a good package.

So what about using Mind Map software to tap into the auditory learning style? Well one thing you could do as you create your map is to quietly talk to yourself describing what you are doing as you do it. However whilst this would help, another more powerful feature of Mind Mapping software is the ability to attach audio files to branches. So you could create your branch and then record your thoughts about that branch to listen to at a later date. At this point I am going to jump ahead a little and recommend you use iMindMap for this. Other software allows you to link to audio files but you will have to create them in a separate program, link to it and then when you want to listen the link will have to open up your default mp3 player. However iMindMap has this really cool audio notes feature that allows you to record the note inside the software (you only need a microphone) and link directly to the branch.

And finally we come to the kinesthetic learning style. When you create a hand drawn map the physical activity of drawing the branch at a particular point around the map helps tap into this learning style. Its orientation, its length and even the physical act of using a different colored pen all add to the physical experience. Early attempts to create Mind Map software were limited in their physical interaction with the map because it was simply a case of either using your insert key on your keyboard to generate a new branch or a primitive point and click action with the mouse.

Many current software programs still have that limitation but one of the reasons that iMindMap is surging ahead is that it has been able to replicate the physical action of the hand drawn process on a computer. This is a huge benefit to those people who have a strong kinesthetic bias in the way they process and internalize information.