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Why (and how) to use mind maps for online teaching

According to a recent study from UNESCO, the COVID-19 pandemic has directly affected about 90% of the world’s students.  This impact has resulted in widespread school closures, altered school years, and a shift to online teaching. All of these changes have created unique challenges for teachers and students.

Teachers have had little time to plan for and adapt to new remote teaching environments, and to the tools they need to create a fulfilling learning experience. Identifying and onboarding new online teaching tools have taken place on protracted timelines, with very limited time for reflection and process refinement.

This article will explore some of the main challenges that remote teachers face, provide potential solutions to those problems, and illustrate the benefits of mind mapping for remote education.

Let’s get started!


[Free eBook] Why (and How) to Use Mind Maps for Online Teaching


Online teaching challenges

The study mentioned above from UNESCO lists five major challenges that online teachers are facing as a result of the pandemic.

1. A reliance of poor teaching techniques

Physical displacement between teachers and students is causing a regression in learning techniques, or a reliance on techniques that are known to be less effective. This is primarily out of necessity, as in-person, interactive learning experiences are simply not possible in many places around the world.

Some of these ineffective teaching techniques include:

  • Distribution of virtual or physical learning materials with little to no hands-on follow-up
  • One-to-many dictation of course material that results in passive listening
  • Minimal engagement between peers over the course material
  • A regression to verbal or text-based learning over visual or hands-on learning

As mentioned, this regression is largely out of necessity. Many virtual teachers simply don’t have the ability, or time, to find new ways to engage effectively with students in a remote environment. The result is a reliance on older, less effective teaching methods.

2. Educators are overwhelmed and under-supported

Educators around the world have been struggling to keep up with the various pressures and requirements that have arisen from this shift to online teaching. As is the nature of this global pandemic, teachers were given little to no notice when shifting to online learning.

As a result, teachers have had to sift through and adapt large amounts of course material to an online learning environment. Add to this the personal challenges of juggling families, lockdowns, and professional responsibilities, and you have a workforce that is being pulled in many different directions at once.

3. Equity gaps are exacerbated

Online learning requires students to have the appropriate devices and applications needed to participate. Of course, not every student will have access to the same internet connection, applications, devices, or learning material as their peers.

This has exacerbated the equity gap between different socio-economic groups, and makes it difficult for teachers to ensure that all students are given equal opportunity to learn.

4. Educators are pulled in numerous directions

School safety procedures during the pandemic are different from country to country, and even schoolboard to schoolboard. In those locations where schools have re-opened, many teachers are being asked to juggle multiple styles of teaching. This might include in-classroom teaching, virtual classrooms, and traditional distance learning.

In addition to this, teachers must develop lesson plans and curricula, and adapt those plans to each specific medium they’re using. That’s on top of staying up to date on, and enforcing, safety procedures needed to keep staff and students safe.

5. Isolation and distractions are prevalent amongst students

Keeping young students engaged and attentive is hard enough in a traditional classroom setting. Add to this the isolation and distractions of online learning at home, and you’ve got a real challenge on your hands.

Remote teachers must now tackle all of the aforementioned challenges, while also finding ways to keep socially isolated students engaged with their learning material.

Luckily, we’re living in a world that has no shortage of new technology to help with each of these challenges. In the next section, we’ll dig into some potential solutions. Then, we’ll discuss how mind mapping and MindManager is one such online teaching tool that can help.

Solutions to online teaching challenges

The following list reflects five of the most common problems that online teachers have to face and overcome on a daily basis. We’ve included recommendations from UNESCO’s article mentioned above to help solve each problem.

1. Lack of motivation

Set clear and measurable goals for each of your students so that they have an end point to focus on in their work. Clearly outline what the goal is for each learning activity and assignment, and set clear parameters.

This should include:

  • A set timeframe and due date
  • A measurable, quantifiable outcome
  • A means of accountability
  • The ability to track task and project completion
  • Open lines of communication and collaboration

It’s important to clearly communicate expectations from online students. This will help keep them motivated to complete the task at hand and, hopefully, to achieve the outcome that you laid out for them.

2. Isolation

The best way to tackle student isolation is to leverage the teleconferencing and collaboration tools available to you as an online teacher. Coordinate as many virtual group activities as possible. Turn your camera on when chatting with your students, and encourage them to do the same.

Using platforms that enable collaborative engagement with learning materials is another great way to create a sense of connection between students. Make sharing, commenting, and working collaboratively with learning materials as easy as possible.

3. Technical issues

Virtual teaching is only as effective as the tools and internet connection you and your students have at your disposal. To ensure that all students are given equal opportunity to learn, reach out to your class early to gauge how many students have access to the necessary devices and connections to participate effectively.

Next, you should choose software that is easy-to-use, intuitive, and not too resource intensive. Select online teaching tools that are easily disseminated to your students, and that can be easily installed on a wide range of devices.

Lastly, you should schedule an onboarding session with students to make sure that everyone is confident in using the new learning software. Arrange for extra help for students who are struggling to adapt to the new tools.

4. Cumbersome learning material

Transform long winded instructional or learning documents into shorter, easy-to-consume resources. Leverage visualization tools like mind maps and video recordings to create more engaging, bite-sized pieces of information for your students.

The more you can move away from linear, text-based documentation, the more engagement and comprehension you will get from your students. We’ll talk more about that in the next section.

5. Task and progress tracking

Lastly, use online teaching tools that allow you to create unique task tracking dashboards for each of your students. These should be accessible by you and the student, and should contain key goals, projects, and units of study that your class is working on.

Visualization tools like dashboards, Kanban boards, and task tracking mind maps are all great options here. Just be sure that you can share and collaborate on those documents so that you can regularly check in on progress and provide feedback.

The benefits of mind mapping in education

Mind mapping and information visualization software like MindManager has many benefits that can help to solve the online teaching challenges raised in this issue.

This platform is particularly helpful for improving:

  • Information sharing
  • Understanding of course material
  • Retention of information
  • Student engagement
  • Research and analysis

Let’s dive into each of these benefits now.

1. Information sharing

The mind mapping method helps students overcome information overload by allowing them to easily categorize and organize learning materials in a way that’s easy to access and consume.

Online teachers, and students, can also add links, attachments, and images to their maps to add depth to the information. This turns a simple mind map into a complete database of information that the student can digest and adapt to their needs.

Information easily evolves from a stagnant document to a dynamic one thanks to features like filters, relationships, conditional formatting, and task assignment. Online teachers and students are able to build on original learning materials to create a dynamic and engaging resource that’s customized to each individual.

Lastly, MindManager gives teachers and students a variety of ways to export and share their maps. This includes HTML5 exports, publishing to the web or converting documents to PDFs, Word or PowerPoint documents.

2. Understanding of course material

According to Chuck Frey’s annual survey for the Mind Mapping Software Blog, most users say that “improved understanding of complex issues” is the top benefit they receive from platforms like MindManager.

This is largely due to the non-linear, multi-dimensional, and multi-sensory learning that takes place when using a mind map to analyze new information. Building a map allows students to segment information and manipulate it in a way that helps then understand complex topics, structures, and the big picture.

It’s been proven that mind mapping enables “meaningful learning”. This occurs when students have acquired new knowledge and have connected that new knowledge to knowledge they already have. Mind mapping helps to streamline this process by visually forming connection between what a student already knows, and what they’ve just learned.

This ability is critical to success in an remote teaching environment that does not allow for significant one-on-one time with students.

3. Retention of information

Mind mapping is a visual information processing tool, affording it a wide range of advantages over audio or text-based learning. That’s because humans learn in a predominantly visual manner. In fact, 90% of the information processed by our brain is visual, and 80% of people tend to remember things they see much better than what they read or hear.

Visualizing information, therefore, makes it easier for students to retain it long term. According to W. Martin Davis, “diagrams are more easily stored in memory that other kinds of representational formats. Maps allow the separate encoding of information in memory in visual as well as written form.”

So, what does this all mean for online teachers? It means that allowing your students to study and work with course material visually will lead to better understand and retention in the long term. In fact, researchers have quantified that number, and found that studying using mind maps helps to boost retention by 10-15%.

4. Student engagement

Mind mapping is a great tool for online teachers to use when holding collaborative brainstorming or information sharing sessions. Acting as a virtual whiteboard, MindManager maps can be easily shared on screen and populated in real time as new ideas, comments, and questions arise from students.

This active participation from students creates heightened engagement that is not easy to accomplish using one-to-many presentation methods like PowerPoint or Word documents.

5. Research and analysis

Lastly, mind maps are a powerful tool that students can use for researching new subjects and planning for assignments. In-depth research and analysis of information is made much easier thanks to the centralization of information, the ability to include links and attachments, and the visual connections that can be drawn between topics.

This tool is beneficial to both virtual teachers and students, helping them streamline information gathering and analysis. All information can be centralized to a single map, making it much more accessible and easier to work with than folders or multiple documents.

4 online teaching templates to get you started

Now that we’ve covered the challenges that online teachers face in 2020, some solutions to those problems, and an overview of how mind maps fit into the equation, let’s look at some MindManager templates that you can use to get started.

1. Lesson planning

When creating a lesson plan or lecture notes, teachers can create a main topic and connect it to other important points, where links and files can then be embedded. This structure can be expanded to include key units of study, and the specific topics, resources, and assignments that will be needed for each.

Once completed, this map can be easily shared with your colleagues and students as both a briefing document and an instructional resource for the upcoming semester.

Below you’ll find a sample course proposal template. Click “Menu” and “Download” to access a copy of this file.

2. Staying organized

Digital mind mapping is the perfect tool for keeping track of tasks, lesson plans, to-dos, and even information about your students. Transfer your important information from paper into a mind map, and use this as your central dashboard to organize your work.

Below is a sample template that educators can use to track priorities and task progress for various administrative duties. This can be easily adapted and expanded to reflect your own responsibilities as a teacher.

3. Class collaboration

Mind maps are invaluable for group brainstorming, presentations, and for generating and capturing in-depth discussions between students. Coupled with a video conferencing platform, and the new ability to co-edit on MindManager maps, this is a perfect solution for any online teacher struggling to keep their class engagement and working collaboratively.

Below is a sample brainstorming template that you can use to collaborate and engage with your students in an online environment.

4. Distributing learning materials

As mentioned, mind maps are an ideal way to visually show complex concepts and learning materials to your students. The non-linear manner in which mind maps are created helps to segment information and draw connections between key points.

Below is a sample template create Sutarto Sutarto, a Physics teacher at the Bunda Mulia School in Indonesia. This is a real map that he uses to teach his students about the photoelectric effect.

MindManager for high education faculty

Watch the video below for a detailed overview of how mind maps and MindManager can help higher education faculty in there work. This video touches on:

  1. Curriculum Mapping
  2. Lesson Planning
  3. Engaging Students
  4. Research and Writing
Virtual teaching is hard enough without the added hassle of scrambling to find tools that will engage your students and convey information in a helpful way. If you’re looking for a new tool to make that process easier, then we recommend that you try MindManager.

Try MindManager FREE for 30 days. This will give you access to a full-feature version of the platform that you can use to test out mind mapping on your own.

Free eBook

Mind Maps for Online Teaching eBook | MindManager BlogWhy (and How) to Use Mind Maps for Online Teaching

Download this free eBook to learn why mind maps for an excellent tool for online teachers. Get insights into common challenges that you and your colleagues are facing, and learn how mind maps can help make your life easier.

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