Designing With Mind Maps

Mind maps are a fluid way to visualize ideas through a diagrammatic structure. They graphically depict the connections between related concepts and ideas.

eLearning designers and developers are finding creative ways to use mind maps, like MindMeister and other applicaitons listed below, during analysis and design. Here are a few ways our peers are using mind maps.

Storyboarding with Mind Maps

Rod Ward, an information designer and eLearning developer, uses mind maps for storyboarding. Read about his approach below.

“I use mind maps created with MindJet’s Mind Manager software to initially lay out the information hierarchy of a new course (or even an existing one that I’ve been asked to redevelop).  As such, my maps are really only text-based.  No illustrations or diagrams or graphics at this point in the process because I’m really just concentrating on the message, not how I will eventually illustrate it and bring it to life.

Storyboards can take many forms and my view is that whatever works for you is right. In my case, I prefer to do most of the graphics in the development tool environment rather than doing them once in the storyboard and again in the development tool. I find nowadays that clients need results much more quickly.

I think one of the things course developers have to be careful of is spending TOO much time in the design side of the equation and leave their development phase too late. So storyboarding to me is just one small but important part of a much larger pie that I have to end up swallowing by the time the job is done.  I don’t go all out to make the storyboarding phase a work of such great art that the rest of my project is compromised.

This project was for a major resources company and required both e-learning and online help documentation.  It’s a reasonably good example of how I work out what is required to build.”

Click to enlarge (in the live mind map, clicking the plus sign displays the hierarchy)

Planning and Communicating with Mind Maps

Here is another approach from Tamara McCulloch, an instructional design project manager. She uses mind maps for many aspects of her job. Read Tamara’s take on mind maps below.

“Graphic organizers are a staple of the classroom, for organizing a paper, preparing for a research project, or outlining a study guide. They are useful in demonstrating cause and effect, time and sequence, generalization and principle concepts. I frequently use graphic organizers in my role as an instructional design project manager. These tools provide a path for processes and procedures. One way I use them is to capture brainstorming for strategic planning.

The text portion of the mind map - users toggle to the graphic below

During the course planning and design process, I find them useful for communicating with subject-matter experts (SME) to drive the conversation in linear and non-linear design. Graphic organizers can guide the SME to conceptualize the content he or she should consider for objectives, themes, examples, simulations, and assessment and evaluation. I find it a better tool than a storyboard for each page.

I use Webspiration,  a web-based graphic organizer that provides a location for creators to share their design and planning documents. This tool allows users to add images, links, text, etc. The design team can log on during a conference call and edit and make changes to the graphic organizer. For people who prefer an outline design, Webspiration provides a button to toggle between the graphic and the outline. I often create a generic outline and ask the SME to add comments.”

Click to enlarge (in the live mind map, users toggle back and forth between outline and graphic mode)

Because of their graphical nature, mind maps can enable you to think about information in new ways. They’re an excellent tool for working out structure, interactions and story lines. How are you using mind maps? Comment below.

MindMapping Tools:

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  1. Renato Mercado says

    I think its a good techique to get inspiration and creativity. You can surf between concepts, ideas and finally define the structure.

  2. Molly Ebel says

    Hi Connie,

    Thanks for the mindmap information. I just wanted to let you know the Webspiration link isn’t working!

  3. Kathleen Harper says

    I love using mindmaps and concept maps to storyboard a course. Recently did a scenario-heavy course (we used Vue) and the mapping made keeping track of the scenario branches (there were three that had to correlate at each decision point but have slightly different outcomes… try to do that in a word doc storyboard!).

    Mindmaps combined with action maps (Thanks Cathy Moore) are wonderful for designing a course, and particularly with SMEs involved, as they can see the big picture and can tweak, move, adjust, add, subtract, and revise quickly and see the resulting picture clearly.

    (and they represent pretty well the way I think, which is UBER helpful!) :-)

  4. Faizel Mohidin says

    I have even designed self contained courses and reference guides using Mind Maps. With a free OpenSource tool like Xmind, you can distribute it to anyone with a computer, as they can simply download the software and use it immediately.

    I often set up a workbook, with one master Mind Map and hyperlinks to the details.

    Learners are able to add their own ideas and comments to the Mind Map, putting them at the centre of the learning process.

  5. Tanya says

    Thanks for your suggestions. I am trying to reaquaint myself with mind maps. I was introduced years ago but never put them to practice. Now being an intructionsal designer at a new company, I feel they could be very useful, being that this organization seems focused on spending less time in the design phase and want more out faster in the development phase. Your suggestions will be put to good use.

  6. Brigit Calame says

    Mindmaps help me to get my thoughts and ideas organized. It’s also à great help when studying. Instead of writing à summary line by line, I draw à mindmap. The extra here is that content is logically structured.


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