Essay: Mind Maps for Business Education

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Essay: An evaluation of the use of Cognitive Mapping

(for post 16 Business and Economics learners in a Further Education College in North East England)

1. Learning Outcomes

The first learning outcome is to find out whether the use of ‘cognitive mapping’ improves student participation. Also the aim will be to examine the role of these ‘maps’ in lessons, and at what stage of the lesson they might be best employed. The second learning outcome is to find out whether they highlight strengths and weaknesses of a student’s work to the teacher. The teacher can oversee the use of such ‘maps’ in lessons for the benefit of learners.

2. Overview

This section outlines why ‘Mind Maps’ were used as the area of study rather than ‘Concept Maps’. The term ‘cognitive mapping’ is a generic term, which covers the more recognisable terms ‘concept maps’ and ‘Mind Maps’. Concept maps group facts and ideas together “to make distinctions and relationships between things” (Fisher 2001:59). In particular, facts are grouped in a hierarchical way.

In a concept map, a central concept is placed at the top of the map and the various sub-components are networked down from this central concept (Budd 2004:43). In a mind map, the hierarchies and associations flow out from a central image in a free flowing, yet organised and coherent, manner. Branches flowing from the central image link themes associated with ‘the centre’. Each branch is labelled with a key word or image (Budd 2004:36). Mind Maps are about creating themes, sub-themes and supporting examples (Budd 2004:44).

The emphasis in this work will be on Mind Maps and their characteristic of being ‘free flowing’. The pedagogical benefits of Mind Maps, in this case, are less about an improved method of learning. Rather, Mind Maps can be used to encourage active collaborative learning (Budd 2004:42). This is needed because there has been a call for economics teaching to move beyond traditional presentations (Budd 2004:42).

Mind Maps can be designed for small group activities, which are designed to encourage discussion. This allows “students to voice their ideas, support their ideas with evidence, and listen to other points of view“(Budd 2004:36). They can also help the teacher to facilitate the lesson. The teacher can circulate amongst the groups. This gives the instructor the opportunity “to interact with the students in a more personal manner than a traditional ‘chalk and talk’ presentation would allow. (Budd 2004:36). In particular, moving between groups allows instructors to “observe the extent of participation and to get the more passive group members to be more active” (Budd 2004:36). This could be done by building in questioning to the exercise.

However, some individuals or groups need to be discouraged from elaborate drawings and towards more detailed thinking (Budd 2004:36). This is an important disadvantage of mind mapping activities, which will be discussed in more detail later. However, for the moment, it should be recognised that it is not appropriate to replace the usual economic graphical analysis with a Mind Map. If a teacher wants students to consider the determinants of supply and demand then the traditional graphical analysis is needed (Budd 2004:40). A Mind Map exercise is meant to encourage reflection, after initial learning, it should not replace initial instruction in the meaning of concepts (Budd 2004:40). Mind Maps are not a teaching method with which to teach an entire course (Budd 2004:44).

The discussion will now examine the usefulness of Mind Maps given different learning styles. Learning styles will affect how students judge Mind Maps. Auditory learners may be well served by traditional presentations where they listen, while tactile learners need to ‘do’ things to learn (Budd 2004:42). It is suggested that a ‘doing’ learning style is associated with student’s perceptions of having learned significantly from a Mind Map exercise (Budd 2004:43).

There is a dichotomy here between those who prefer active experimentation, i.e. doing, versus those who prefer abstract conceptualisation, i.e. thinking (Kolb 1984 in Budd 2004:43). Students with higher scores for ‘thinking’ rated traditional presentations more favourably than a Mind Map exercise (Budd 2004:43). This suggests that kinaesthetic (i.e. tactile) learners have most to gain from Mind Maps. They will also benefit visual learners who like to “draw maps of their learning sequences or create patterns of information” (Fleming 1995:2).

It is worth examining why such (tactile) students may benefit from the use of Mind Maps. It is claimed that they encourage interest in the students because “they make lessons more spontaneous, creative and enjoyable” (Buzan and Buzan 2007:191). Such mapping may be seen as creative because it can challenge students, in terms of thinking how ideas can be structured, and can encourage them to adapt their ideas (Fisher 2001:62). “Unlike linear text, Mind Maps show not just the facts but the relationship between those facts thus (potentially – author’s italics) giving the students a deeper understanding of the subject” (Buzan and Buzan 2007:192). But student centred learning, based on Mind Maps, is not necessarily helping those who prefer thinking during lectures. Again, this is an important perspective, which will be discussed at more length in the conclusion.

Nevertheless, Mind Maps may offer a variety of experiences to students regardless of the preferred learning style. Mind mapping helps students to see the whole picture of the information, which is being investigated. “The mapping of a subject should help (a student) think more clearly about it” (Fisher 2001:63). Major areas can be covered and then “it is possible to go through them point by point following the logic of branched connections” (Fisher 2001:63).

Mind Maps can be used as an aid to help with writing. “Mapping can help information flow to and from and among pupils and teachers” (Fisher 2001:65). Most importantly a procedure is learnt for investigating, visualising and organising information. Learning to organise ideas is useful for trying to understand the structure of any text that students may read (Fisher 2001:65). Consequently, Mind Maps can be particularly useful when reading written sources for the preparation of coursework. There is also support for their use as a revision activity. For example, they provide an overview of a whole topic (Buzan and Buzan 2007:184). “A map can be projected onto a screen that can be viewed, adapted and developed over time” (Fisher 2001:57).

The main benefit for the teacher is that Mind Maps can quickly indicate to the teacher whether or not the students have a general grasp of the subject, as well as their particular strengths and weaknesses. This approach allows the teacher to see clearly the student’s state of knowledge which is unaffected “by judgements about skills in other areas such as grammatical correctness” (Buzan and Buzan 2007:187). Although this may indicate that learning associated with Mind Maps is insufficient on its own and again this needs to be addressed in the conclusion.

A study on Mind Maps offers an advantage. There is no need to add the research onto the existing teaching. The teaching tool i.e. the ‘Mind Maps’, fit in with the teaching environment. Feedback can be automatically obtained during a lesson (Baumfield et. al. 2008:4). Mind-Maps are a practical method because the feedback from them can directly enhance “the learning and teaching in progress” (Baumfield et. al. 2008:6). Moreover, undertaking this research in the classroom helps to engage with the academic research, which can then be understood better (Baumfield et. al. 2008:8. This can then inform further investigation of ‘Mind Maps’ in the classroom.

The research will introduce an innovation i.e. Mind Maps into lessons. It is thought that the introduction of Mind Maps will support the pupils in their learning. This support will attempt to improve the learning through better participation (Baumfield et. al. 2008:16). It is also intended that the use of Mind Maps will lead to more specific and more accurate responses to questions. As stated earlier, the graphic representation allows the teacher to see if any improvements are needed immediately. The project will examine pupils work samples to see how Mind Maps can contribute to learning.

As part of the project, the author as teacher can produce a Mind Map as a PowerPoint presentation and evaluate its usefulness for learners. Another issue is to find out how valuable such mapping is given the time costs involved in studying the method. Time would need to be set-aside for pupils to ‘learn how to learn’ and the question is whether such time can be justified. One college teacher stated that they had attended seminars on mapping techniques. But that it could be time consuming to incorporate such methods into their schemes of work given all the other teaching and planning responsibilities they have to undertake. Mapping techniques can be incorporated into lessons but you have to take the time so that pupils can use them properly. A leading school in North East England has time allocated for pupils ‘to learn how to learn’. This school also employs three web designers to provide resources (such as Mind Maps) to learners. The College does not have this level of support. Therefore, it may be more difficult to use Mind Maps particularly with ICT resources.

Action research aims to create practical knowledge that is relevant to people in their everyday lives (Reason and Bradbury eds. 2006: 2). Its distinctive feature is that “the outcomes of the research process are grounded in the perspective” of those directly involved with the research (Reason and Bradbury eds. 2006: 4). It is not “filtered through an outsider’s preconceptions and interests” (Reason and Bradbury eds. 2006:4). It has the advantage of expressing the problems experienced by the teacher and his pupils crucially from the teacher’s perspective. This is relevant, to the advantages of participant observation discussed later.

It would be good practice to collect quantitative data to underpin qualitative research such as student’s perceptions of mind-maps. It is relatively straightforward to generate qualitative comments as part of a research diary, which is “fully integrated with what you are doing” (Baumfield et. al. 2008:65). However, it is difficult to collect quantitative data in the short term. It would be possible to obtain quantitative data in this context. For example, mind-mapping research could be evaluated with an examination of “homework returns and the marks achieved” (Baumfield et. al. 2008:30). The problem is that the homework was written so it would be difficult to measure the impact of Mind Maps on homework grades. While the thoughts and feelings of teachers and learners is suitable information (Baumfield et. al. 2008:66) quantitative data for this study is likely to be limited. This is because it is not possible to incorporate exam results into a study of such a short period. If figure 1: below is examined then, realistically only the first two parts are relevant in this study.

Figure 1: How information could be obtained in this Action Research context

The issue to explore How the issue could be explored

How will Mind Maps support pupils’ retention of knowledge?

1. Analysis of Mind Maps against learning objectives.

2. Focus Groups to examine student work.

3. Record of homework and grades achieved.

This figure was adapted from Baumfield et. al. 2008:31

3. The research methodology

Results were obtained from 3 different methods. The first was from an examination of work samples (i.e. the ‘Mind Maps’ produced) to see how effective they were. Students were asked to draw a Mind Maps using diagrams, symbols, and pictures. Students were also asked to restrict the number of words used. As part of the lesson a group of 3 or 4 students work on a sub-topic. Once this task is completed then one person, in the group, teaches other students in the class. The student who taught the subject covered in the ‘Mind Map’ then reverses roles. They are taught the other subjects by other students from other groups.

The second method of data collection was from a research diary. The results from the diary were notes from evaluations of lessons. The research diary used the technique of ‘participant observation’. Observations are made as part of classroom lessons, where the teacher is not “a passive observer” (Yin 2003:93). The researcher can participate in the events being studied. It has the advantage that the researcher has access to subjects who would be otherwise inaccessible to investigation. In this way, a teacher has better access to the subjects (the pupils) than an external academic researcher would. It is also useful that students can be viewed from an internal viewpoint rather than an external viewpoint. In other words, the ‘participant observer’ has the advantage of better understanding the viewpoint of students; how they behave, what their motivations and learning styles are etc. This can be useful when lessons need to be adapted. On the other hand, “the investigator has less ability to work as an external observer” (Yin 2003:94). Another disadvantage is that the participant role (in this case the teaching role) may dominate the observer role. There may not be enough time for note taking or to raise questions from different perspectives. There is unlikely to be the opportunity to observe an external inspector’s perspective of Mind Maps.

The last set of data was from a focus group which involved asking some questions as part of a normal classroom lesson. It was not intended to be representative. It is not possible to have enough respondents from a large sample of the (student) population for the results to be representative of say across all students in the North East. The aim is simply to consider the usefulness of Mind Maps. Focus groups can be useful to see what other issues emerge.

The use of focus groups here could be extended to see how they compare with quantitative data such as exam results. For example, an outcome from the groups could be that Mind Maps encourage perceived additional student participation. Research could discover whether apparent greater participation has led to improved exam results.

The following discussion outlines how focus groups could be useful in this context. “The focus group is a qualitative methodology”. “It is not intended to provide definite answers to questions” (Greenbaum 1998:59). It can though be helpful in comparison to other data that is collected. Focus groups will attempt to highlight issues, which are of interest to respondents. The interpretation of the subjective and qualitative values, from the focus groups, acts to emphasise important issues.

Greenbaum (1998:62) outlines some factors, which need to be considered for the successful implementation of focus groups. It is suggested, that “the more homogeneous the group is, then the better the participants will relate to each other”. Thus students as respondents should generate a higher quality of input than a group who do not know each other. Greenbaum (1998:66) also thought that interaction should be encouraged to increase the quality of the output from the session. The range of ideas given to the researcher may increase through interaction.

Potential shortcomings of focus groups need to be identified as these help to improve the conduct of the groups and the interpretation from them. Greenbaum (1998:66) suggests that one of the greatest disadvantages of the focus group technique is its subjective nature because it allows observers to interpret what happened during the session. It is thought that the moderator should maintain an objective perspective, throughout the process, so that the final report is an accurate representation of what happened (Greenbaum 1998:69). This is a more serious problem because the author, as a teacher, will be interpreting the results. However, the solution is to focus on the big picture rather than on individual comments. “The most effective way to evaluate focus groups is to try to identify the few really important findings of the group; considering the group’s overall feelings” (Greenbaum 1998:69).

4. Results

One particular work sample involved the author asking the students to draw a Mind Map. This was “to evaluate the impact that a shift in production (from Britain) to China may have upon various stakeholder groups”. This is relevant to part 1, of figure 1, where mind maps are compared against learning objectives. The Mind Map was assessed to see how well learners could identify all relevant stakeholders in detail.

First, it was clear that observed learning activity was taking place, which would not have been as evident if the material had been presented in a lecture style format. Second, it was particularly useful that gaps in knowledge could be quickly identified and remedied. Students were able to identify the impact upon British stakeholders in terms of lost jobs for domestic suppliers. However, the author was able to add to this knowledge. He mentioned the need to examine the impact on Chinese suppliers, including an assessment of working conditions and how Non-Governmental Organisations (mentioned to the students as another stakeholder) would be interested in these circumstances. A criticism was made of the author (as teacher) of this study. Students told his mentor that classes needed to be more interesting (i.e. more interactive). At the start of his teaching practice a more didactic style was used with the intention that Mind Maps would be used at a later stage. The use of Mind Maps later was an attempt to solve this problem, in particular for a group of 4 AS learners who have a tactile or kinaesthetic learning style.

The results from the research diary (i.e. the participant observation) are less positive. Mind Maps can help generate a “good (and improved) working atmosphere”. “The students seemed to have enjoyed the lesson” and “left the classroom with a smile on their faces”. However, some Mind Maps showed that learners were “mixing up different topics (such as) microeconomic and macroeconomic concepts all on the same sheet of paper”. A lesson also led to students “digressing from the topic in question” (including) “paying too much attention to artwork and drawings” (and even) “playing noughts and crosses”

The following section details some qualitative comments from a class of AS learners using the 4 questions, which are also listed in the appendix (3). This is relevant to part 2, of figure 1, which suggests the use of Focus Group research.

Question 1

How useful are the Mind Maps in helping you with the work?

“The Mind Maps are good (because) it means that we get to talk about the work”

Question 2

Is the concept of Mind Maps new to you?

“No we usually do them with (name of mentor)”

Question 3

Would you make your own Mind Maps this year and next year?

“Yeah we use them” (and) “will use them to revise”

“Yes (I will do Business next year and) I’ll drop Psychology” … “I would use them again next year”

Question 4

Do you want to keep the Mind Maps?

“No, you can keep them (Name of author)”

The students were also asked whether (a) they would prefer drawing a Mind Map using PowerPoint (see appendix 1 and 2) or (b) with a large piece of paper with coloured pens. The second option was preferred.

5. Conclusions

The first learning outcome was about whether Mind Maps improve student participation. This was the case as learners were more involved in the lessons where Mind Maps were used. It may be helpful to give students “more control over and responsibility for their learning” (Petty 2001:119). By giving students more involvement or ‘ownership’ of the lesson then arguably they can achieve more “active and deep learning rather than passive and superficial learning” (Petty 2001:119). The second learning outcome was to find out whether Mind Maps help improve student understanding; by highlighting strengths and weaknesses of a student’s work to the teacher. This aim was achieved as the author (as teacher) was able to monitor work undertaken by different groups and point out gaps in knowledge; or areas of improvement, for example where microeconomic and macroeconomic principles had not been separated.

Given these benefits then the use of Mind Maps can be justified as a ‘teaching tool’ in lessons. There will be an “additional time investment” (Eppler 2006:209) in terms of explaining Mind Maps to learners but this is a small time cost compared to the greater student participation, which can accrue.

There is a greater concern with how Mind Maps are used as part of lessons. It is useful that an informal focus group has found students to be in favour of using Mind Maps, but they may not know their best learning interests. A risk is that lessons may become too student centred with Mind Maps dominating lessons. There is a danger that a (trainee) teacher may encourage too much participation from students to avoid the problem of learners not listening to PowerPoint presentations. A formal didactic instruction style with “little or no negotiation between teachers and students” can be useful at the start of the lesson (Cohen 2001:183). This is because as the teacher is the expert, then it can be useful to directly specify the knowledge that needs to be acquired. The danger is that this formal approach is curtailed to placate the needs of learners who prefer a ‘doing approach’. This is a particular problem for learners who prefer a ‘thinking approach’ as outlined by Budd (see pages 2 and 3). Also, grammatical skills need to be adequate and there is a danger that these are not addressed if too much emphasis is placed on Mind Maps.

Another concern is associated with placating the needs of learners who want to be ‘doing’ activities. There is a problem if they expect to be drawing Mind Maps frequently. Mind Mapping may promote ‘deep’ learning, which is internally motivated (Peterson and Snyder 1998:10). Yet learner’s motivation needs to be addressed if they are not willing to read (or listen to) material. Another problem is that the students do not want to keep the Mind Maps after they have finished. Mind Maps can demonstrate to an Ofsted inspector that learning has taken place because students have been actively involved in producing the work. However, such learning is less beneficial if the ‘maps’ are not retained for later revision. Also, learners were instructed to make notes to supplement the Mind Maps but appeared to be overly interested in drawing them. This might lead to the learners not having sufficient information for the examination. The corollary is that Mind Maps may be best used as a plenary activity to review material after formal written work has been provided. Although, as stated earlier, Mind Maps can help students to clarify their ideas as part of written coursework (see pages 3 and 4).

Finally, attempts to use Mind Maps to display economic concepts on PowerPoint screens do not work very well (see Appendix 1 and 2). The usual approach for drawing Mind Maps is to use a large sheet of paper (Buzan 2006:34). Budd’s analysis (see page 2) is also relevant that Mind Maps should not be used for the initial instruction of economics. If a mapping technique were to be used, in this context, then ‘concept mapping’ would be more appropriate.

6. Bibliography

Anderton A. (2008), Economics, Fourth Edition, Pearson Education, Harlow

Baumfield V. Hall E. and Wall K., (2008), Action Research in the Classroom, Sage, London

Budd J. W., (2004), Mind Maps as Classroom Exercises, Journal of Economic Education,

Buzan T., (2006), Mind Mapping: Kickstart you creativity and transform your life, BBC Active

Buzan T. and B. Buzan, (2007),The Mind Map Book, BBC Active, Pearson Education, Harlow

Cohen L., Manion L., Morrison K., (2005), A Guide to Teaching Practice, Fifth Edition, Routledge Falmer, London

Eppler M., (2006), Information Visualization (2006) 5, 202–210, Palgrave Macmillan Ltd,

Fisher R., (2001), Teaching Children to Learn, Nelson Thomas, Cheltenham

Fleming, N.D; (1995), I’m different; not dumb. Modes of presentation (VARK) in the tertiary classroom in Zelmer, A. (ed.) Research and Development in Higher Education, Proceedings of the 1995 Annual Conference of the Higher Education and Research Development Society of Australasia (Herdsa), HERDSA, Volume 18, pp. 308-313,

Greenbaum T., (1998), The handbook for focus group research, Sage Publications, London

Peterson A and Snyder P, (1998), Using Mind Maps to Teach Social Problems Analysis, Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of the Social Problems (48th, San Francisco, CA, August 20-22, 1998)

Petty G. (2001), Teaching Today: A practical Guide, Nelson Thomas Ltd, Cheltenham

Sivathasan S. and Hieng Ho L., (2005), Using Mind Maps in University Teaching,

Reason P. and Bradbury H., (2006), Handbook of Action Research, The Concise Paperback Edition, Sage Publications, London

Vark Learn (the link was at

Yin, R., (2003), Case Study Research, Design and Methods, Third Edition, Sage Publications, London

7. Appendices

Appendix 1: Mind Map to show factors affecting Demand (adapted from Anderton 2008:724)

Appendix 2: Mind Map to show factors affecting Demand (adapted from Anderton 2008:724)

Appendix 3

Focus group schedule adapted from Sivasthasan and Hieng Ho (2005).

Question 1

How useful are the Mind Maps in helping you with the work?

Question 2

Is the concept of Mind Maps new to you?

Question 3

Would you make your own Mind Maps this year and next year?

Question 4

Do you want to keep the Mind Maps?

Mind Mapping Links

There are tools for making Mind Maps. This is an article on using mind maps as a Teaching and Learning Tool to Promote Student Engagement.

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