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Mind Map Case Study: Reinventing Higher Education with Mind Maps

In this case study blog post, we hear from Terrence Monroe of WisdomMaps, who tells us about his use of mind mapping as a tool to improve student engagement and learning.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’ve been teaching since 1974, and I’ve long realized that history was a big turn-off for many if not most students. No surprise there, given the way it’s usually taught: soak it up—dates and names and stuffed shirts, battles, and treaties, and all kinds of data that few people know what to with… then spew it out for the exams and be done with it. There’s real pain and punishment in this process: boring lectures, perceived irrelevance, term papers, tests, slogging your way through some Great Dismal Swamp of a textbook—no wonder so many people hate it. It shouldn’t be that way! After all, history is really about ordinary folks (and how the big forces of history affect our very ordinary lives). Everyone enjoys people-watching, and there’s a bottomless reservoir of curiosity about our fellow human creatures to tap into… which is what teaching history should do, but usually doesn’t. Learning should be fun, because the more you enjoy something, the better you learn.

Long story short, I decided to try to do something about it. So I spent the last 12 years creating a set of several thousand mind maps to use in teaching history (history being the history of everything), and I filled them with all kinds of multimedia (images, videos, websites, blogs and books, articles, museum exhibits, all kinds of stuff) that do a great job of arousing curiosity and getting people to engage. Eventually, all of that became WisdomMaps.com, where I’ve made the maps available to anyone who enjoys learning for its own sake.

How were you first introduced to mind mapping?

My department chair at Great Falls College once asked me if I had ever heard of “mind maps”. I hadn’t, but I looked into it and it just struck me how you could lay things out in a map and link up all the topics and all the maps in a big cat’s cradle of interconnectivity. It seemed like a great way to tie information together, and I thought “unity of knowledge”… which is the Holy Grail that the liberal arts types have been chasing after, like Ahab and his white whale, for the last thousand years. And then the light really came on: this was how it could finally happen--potentially, an entire universe of mind-mapped knowledge and understanding based on inter-relatedness and the meaning it produces.

What do you perceive to be the greatest benefit of mind maps?

Mind maps are the stuff of wisdom. Problem is, history is so often taught without context, and absent any easy way to relate certain aspects of history to other aspects in other venues and other times, you can’t create meaning and “the lessons of history.” But mind maps lay everything out and link everything together in ways that do that, and when you create meaning, it produces understanding and ultimately wisdom. The difference here is that it’s fun, not pain and punishment, and for people who are curious, there’s no end of stuff to nose into. Wander and wonder… it’s great good fun to get lost in the garden of the mind.

How does mapping fit into your day to day work?

I’ve used the maps to teach history for various colleges for the past two years now, and I can say with a straight face that the results have exceeded even my own expectations. I’m seeing a level of learner engagement here that I hadn’t seen in my previous 38 years of teaching history the old fashioned way. Now, I wouldn’t teach any other way.

What prompted you to start WisdomMaps and what's it all about?

What spurred me to do this was the dismal and discouraging results that I was having (as were my colleagues) in trying to get learners to find history relevant and to get interested in it. It almost seemed they’d rather have a root canal than take a history course.

Another thing that motivates me is my determination to offer an alternative to textbooks. The price-gouging of textbook publishers these days is simply breathtaking. It’s as if they know their day is done and they’re going to wring every dollar they can out of these poor unfortunates before the publishing industry’s Day of Reckoning finally arrives. Well, that day has come.

What do you think is the greatest barrier to wider adoption of mind maps?

You can’t imagine how hard it is to get something new going with something as old (and positively medieval) as the ivory tower of academe. People seem to feel that nothing good can possibly come of anything new. It can only mean change, and change can only mean a threat to vested interests. I wonder if they’ve forgotten that teaching carries with it the obligation to traffic in the marketplace of ideas and nurture the growth of new thinking. But a college is like a brontosaurus—you step on its tail and two hours later it says “ow.” They really need to wake up and smell the coffee. There was a report out about a year ago from the Harvard School of Business that said that half of all liberal arts colleges will be out of business within 15 years. If higher education is going to survive and thrive, it has to reinvent itself and go global, with new ideas and new ways to tap into the robust market that exists everywhere for an American college degree. Sorry, but MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) are not the answer.

Teaching with mind maps can accomplish that. Mind maps can be configured to display bilingually, and there’s nothing preventing an American college from offering a curriculum of mind-mapped courses to students everywhere, without the language barrier, and without the expense of coming to the United States for their education. The global education market is worth $3 trillion a year, and this is a way for American colleges to own a big piece of that.

Would you like to add anything else?

So I wonder, with all that money on the table, is there really a market of any kind for wisdom? Can anyone make a living at it? When I think of the endless blood and treasure that have been squandered in pursuit of folly (by wise old heads in Washington who should know better), I believe I understand what the Good Book meant when it said that “the price of wisdom is above rubies”. I’m hoping that the pittance I’m asking for it makes it a bit more affordable.☺

I’m on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr at “WisdomMaps”, and I’d love to continue the conversation. Thanks for listening… stay in touch!

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Barney is Community Manager at Biggerplate and shares user stories, mind mapping tips, and other news and updates from our global member community!
London, UK Website