The Basics of Mind Mapping – What You Need to Know When Brainstorming Online.


What is a Mind Map?

A mind map is a diagrammatic representation of ideas that radiate from a central concept, thought, theme or question. Ideas that branch out from the central node become more detailed and build on the previous idea.

Mind maps are incredibly flexible, and can be used in a multiplicity of ways. They could, for example help you capture –

  • the outline of a plan of action
  • the different perspectives of a particular issue
  • the framework of an essay
  • the scope of a project
  • the elements a programme

Compiled individually or in groups, mind maps can vary significantly from one to another. They can be constructed using a range of media from pen and paper, through to online collaborative brainstorming templates.

Fundamental to a mind map is its simplicity. Their purpose is to capture a summary rather than detail, and therefore it should be possible to construct one in a single, reasonably short session.

This article will go through the fundamentals of mind mapping. Read on below to learn more.

The Benefits of Using Mind Maps

Using a mind map yields a number of benefits including the following :

1 – Enhanced Learning and Information Retention

Mind maps mimic the way our brains work.

By surfacing the connections between ideas, students can form connections between what they know and the new information they are exploring.

Additionally, human beings are more likely to remember a narrative brought about by connections rather than disparate facts.

Mind maps can therefore be a valuable teaching and learning tool.

2 – Complex Issues are Easier to Understand

Mind maps have an inherent clarity.

The process of constructing a mind map sees people distill information. As such, they strip away superfluous detail while visually representing how key ideas are connected.

When shared, only the important details are conveyed therefore increasing the likelihood that they are understood.

3 – Better Information Structuring

Mind maps capture information in a logical structure.

The way in which they record ideas and the relationships between them, means they are able to convey the “big picture” simply and quickly, while reflecting the points that support that “big picture”.

This makes mind maps an ideal planning tool for things such as essays and reports, and scopes of work.

4 – Enhanced Productivity

Not only is mind mapping an efficient way of capturing information, it can organize that information with goals and associated tasks in clear view.

Mind maps can help a manager identify then delegate tasks or concepts that are aligned; they can also convey how those delegated tasks are linked, and necessary for the success of a project.

Mind maps can be used to break down your complex aspects of a project into smaller steps, which significantly reduces the amount of work done.

5 – Sparks Creativity

Mind mapping allows us to capture the first thoughts that spring to mind and anything and everything we can think of that is connected. This can foster all manner of creativity.

What Makes Up a Mind Map?

A mind map generally includes a combination of the following :

1 – A Central Idea, Theme or Concept

The central idea is usually called the core, and is the heart of the mind map. The core can be thought of as the firework that’s being launched into the air from which all other ideas will explode.

As the name suggests, the central theme is placed at the centre of the page or screen. It can either be a subject or topic, a problem or question, or even a concept or thought that is to be explored.

2 – Associations

Associations branch out from the central theme; those that radiate from the centre are known as first-level associations.

From there, second-level associations are made, then third-level associations and so on.

With the need for simplicity in mind, it’s generally understood that there should be no more than 6 or 7 association levels, thereby avoiding unnecessary and potentially confusing detail.

When associations are created, and connections between ideas are captured, they tend to be more easily remembered. It’s generally believed that showing those associations as curved rather than straight lines further increases the likelihood of recalling the ideas they connect.

The way in which the associations are represented on the page or screen can add further meaning to a mind map without cluttering it with detail.  For example, bold or coloured lines could draw attention to small but critical ideas. Additionally, the proximity of the ideas to the central theme can be used to reflect their importance.

3 – Keywords

Given a good mind map is simple, the use of keywords are more effective in delivering this simplicity than detailed phrases or sentences.

As a rule, a single word for each association works best, with the associations themselves helping to keep detail to a minimum. For example, “Venue” was used in the mind map pictured rather than “Conference Venue”.

Sticking to keywords also saves time. It allows you to quickly capture the main points needed to support your central theme and avoid getting bogged down in detail. 

In Summary

Mind maps are valuable as –

  • they can be applied to any field
  • there are no right or wrong ways to use them
  • they can explore whatever you wish to deliver the desired outcomes

Templates can supercharge your mind mapping, and GroupMap provides many brainstorming templates that allows you to brainstorm individually or as a team, anonymously and with the ability to ad images, links, colours and files.

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GroupMap: A Collaboration Tool Supporting Community Leaders To Continually Succeed

100% Clear on “What’s Next?” 

Andrew Huffer

Andrew Huffer is a Principal Consultant for Andrew Huffer and Associates – a facilitation, community engagement and team development specialists focused on helping team members to be 100% clear on ‘what’s next?’ 

Andrew’s main role is in program design and development and facilitation. As a recent GroupMap Certified Digital Facilitator and user for over five years, Andrew has used the online brainstorming and collaboration platform with up to 35 clients, to deliver 100+ workshops. 

Recently, Andrew was engaged to facilitate the Community Leaders – Stepping Up and Stepping Out Forum. The workshop aimed to challenge participants to consider how they can step out and step up to support their communities once their leadership programs finished. 

The forum was hosted by the Victorian Regional Community Leadership Program (now known as Regional Leadership Australia).

The intended outcomes of the forum were:

  • Gain exposure to strategic thinking beyond the group’s own localities
  • Use insights to broaden the group’s leadership capacity
  • Expand the organisation’s leadership support base

A Collaboration Tool for Face-to-Face and Digital Facilitation

Over 80 people attended the forum which was held concurrently with participants in Melbourne and Canberra (where a program group was visiting Parliament House). Andrew and his team used a participative approach for the forum to:

  • Share insights from experienced leaders
  • Understand the potential impacts of regional population growth
  • Consider future opportunities for regional leadership

Over his many years and experiences in delivering and facilitating workshops, Andrew found that a face to face setting presented a challenge of laboriously tracking and managing participant input using paper-based tools (flipcharts, templates, post-it notes etc.) 

Documenting reports was time-consuming and arduous.

Meanwhile, in the online space, Andrew discovered there were a few tools available, but they were mostly focused on project management or very ‘clunky’ to use from a design and participant perspective.


GroupMap: Supporting Facilitation 

Five years ago, in 2015, Andrew was introduced to GroupMap by a colleague who was really into tech-based approaches to facilitation. 

Andrew’s overarching goals for an online collaboration tool included:

  • Easy to use and navigate for participants and facilitators alike;
  • Template-based;
  • Suited and enhanced facilitation digitally, face to face or in a hybrid situation. 

GroupMap Collaboration Tool in Action

Collaboration Tool for Better Engagement 

Throughout his years of using GroupMap, Andrew indicated that he has seen many benefits the online collaboration tool brings to achieving outcomes for facilitated workshops, conferences and meetings. 

At the recent Community Leaders – Stepping Up and Stepping Out Forum, Andrew designed the workshop so that participants worked in breakout groups in both locations to undertake a Wave Analysis to identify:

  • New Edges Emerging Trends, and,
  • Established Norms and Dying Practices in regards to regional leadership. 

Participants then identified a ‘big idea’ that they wanted to implement and used the action planning feature of GroupMap to outline how they will make it happen.

“With participants being split across two locations and most using Group Map for the first time, it was important that the workshop process and steps were clear,” said Andrew.

“Being able to outline the objectives for each workshop step within GroupMap templates made this easier. Group Map is also fairly intuitive and simple to follow for most users.” 

“For displaying results and reporting it’s easy [in GroupMap] to zoom in and highlight different elements of each map. The templates are fantastic for design purposes.”


Loved by facilitators and participants

Over the years of using GroupMap, Andrew has noticed that his participants loved how easy it is to use. This often led to participants seeing the potential for using GroupMap to further collaborate more meaningfully with their own teams and community stakeholders.

From his recent Community Leaders – Stepping Up and Stepping Out Forum, Andrew noted how GroupMap also provided an effective tool to enable meaningful participation amongst participants concurrently across multiple locations. 

“My client was very happy that we had a robust tool to enable this [forum] to happen. With the participants doing the documentation, I could focus my efforts on checking in with the groups to help them where needed. 

“Being able to see outputs generated in real time is a great way to check in to see if groups are ‘on track’.”

The forum resulted in several initiatives identified for participants to implement that will benefit regional communities as part of their leadership programs.


Andrew’s GroupMap and digital facilitation tips!

Andrew has also kindly shared his digital facilitation and GroupMap use tips that focus on making sure that any virtual workshops, activities and meetings are even more engaging and effective than ever. 


Digital facilitation tips


Andrew has created a series of videos focused on sharing his online facilitation learnings. In this video titled: “One percenters to keep your participants engaged,” Andrew shares top tips to help keep your participants engaged and productive throughout your online workshop. 

Some of the best practices we love:

  1. Make more effort to keep your events engaging. 
  2. Deliver in shorter blocks of time than you would face to face
  3. Think of ways to incorporate non-screen based activities
  4. Focus on the core elements of (1)  tapping into the diversity of the group (2) helping it
  5. to do its thinking and (3) deliver outcomes


GroupMap: Collaboration tool tips and tricks

In his five years of using GroupMap, Andrew has certainly picked up a lot of learnings and tips and tricks for using our online collaboration platform. 

Here’s some he has shared:

  1. Design your Group Maps to match the purpose and outcomes that you’re trying to achieve (not the other way around). There’s plenty of templates and design options in Group Map to enable this. 
  2. It’s also best to keep processes reasonably simple when you start or for people new to the online space. Ideally it’s great to have scribes or co-facilitators working with breakout groups to help them stay on track where needed.


Try GroupMap for your next engaging meetings, workshops or events!

Thank you Andrew for sharing your GroupMap journey, story and learnings with us. If you’re a facilitator like Andrew or belong in a team who are looking for a more engaging and effective way of brainstorming, try GroupMap today, FREE for 14 days.

Tips for Online Stakeholder Engagement

Recently, Andrew Huffer, of Andrew Huffer Associates, shared three fast tips for online stakeholder engagement.

He has over 25 years of experience in working with organizations, businesses, managers, and communities at a state, national and international level.

Andrew is a Facilitation, Community Engagement & Team Development Specialist, who can help you and your team members be 100% clear on ‘What’s Next’.

Andrew designs and delivers specialist engagement processes, with a focus on facilitating open decision making processes and skill development of clients. He has delivered presentations and workshops at a number of states, national and international conferences. We’re pleased that GroupMap scored a mention in Andrew’s blog post as an “online engagement tool for people to provide their input individually in real-time during an online stakeholder engagement process.” Thanks, Andrew for the shoutout.

Play Video

Andrew’s top three tips

Andrew has been doing plenty of online stakeholder engagement and has learned a few valuable things that he shared in his blog post, titled “Three fast tips for online stakeholder engagement.”

Tip 1: Keep participants above the line

Andrew commented in his post that engagement should be all about “encouraging them to give ideas that are future-focused; thinking about where the opportunities are in relation to the issue and what’s possible.” He calls this keeping them above the line so that their comments and thinking remain constructive, relevant to the future and solutions based.

GroupMap Collaboration Tool in Action

Tip 2: Equity in input

We love this tip from Andrew because this is what we aim to provide with GroupMap: “[give] people…the chance for that more intimate conversation where they get the chance to be heard. This occurs at all levels from equal speaking time, to equal air time for ideas and include a diverse range of voices.

Tip 3: Have workshop templates ready to go

Another awesome tip is to get all your templates ready for the online engagement workshop that you are running so that “… you to get the data from the workshop ….. and get it out to your participants as quickly as possible.”

Of course, this is something that can you easily do via GroupMap’s readily available or custom templates along with a reporting functionality that allows you to download all workshop discussions, voting, and comments at a click of a button!

GroupMap templates

To read Andrew’s full online stakeholder engagement tips head to this blog post.

Teaching with technology – Going beyond Kahoot, Socrative and other quiz apps.

4 Collaborative Activities Using GroupMap In The Classroom.

We all love a good classroom quiz competition. The thrill of competing against others in the classroom using tools such as Kahoot or Socrative adds a level of excitement and urgency. But when it comes time for students to come up with and share their own ideas, we need a different tool. After all, you can’t use a hammer to screw a nail.

Classroom brainstorming, for example, requires students to draw on what they know and to see other perspectives. It’s a great opportunity for them to flex their individuality through divergent, collaborative, and creative thinking. Likewise, developing literacy and comprehension skills, self-awareness and agency require reflective practice.

Using graphic organizers helps you scaffold learning, provides some structure for students to organize their thinking – whether it’s reading a text, planning their work or simply being creative.

PROS of using online graphic organizers

  • Being able to create and reuse lesson plan templates without photocopying – saving paper and time.
  • Student responses are tracked, moderated, saved, and reportable.
  • It helps show the relationship between ideas in an organized way.
  • Can quickly share ideas as groups provide feedback directly on student ideas.
  • It helps with comprehension, and understanding of meaning and relationships.

CONS of using online graphic organizers

  • Limit the students’ writing to whatever content, organization, or style is dictated by the graphic organizer.
  • Students need access to technology.
  • Traditionally with paper formats, students would only write enough to “fill the space”.
  • You need to find the right organizer for the task at hand.

In short, over formatting and regulating a graphic organizer can actually do the reverse of what is intended and limit student independent thinking. At the same time, you still need to have some basic structure to facilitate thinking and discussion.

It makes sense to explore and use a range of context-driven graphic organizers to fit the 21st Century classroom. An online graphic organizer with a tool like GroupMap lets you create a range of graphic organizers so that each student can add their ideas to the template individually or collectively.

We reached out to Ms Jenny Cotham (Masters Education), teacher and community liaison at Winthrop Primary School to share some of the practices she uses both in and out of her classroom. Jenny has used Kahoot and Socrative for creating quizzes along with a myriad of other Edtech tools to enhance her teaching. But when moving to activities beyond Kahoot quizzes, she’s turned to GroupMap.

School Background And Classroom Context

Winthrop Primary is a technology-rich school integrating technology into all curriculum areas. With its 1:1 Device and Bring Your Own Device initiatives, students can participate in class discussions and access learning resources, giving teachers the opportunity to better facilitate class discussion and achieve learning outcomes.

Jenny Cotham is a Primary School Teacher & Community Liaison who teaches middle school students. Her goal is to help teachers design learning opportunities that encourage students to be collaborative, critical thinking and innovative learners.

During the course of the year, Jenny says “ I need to collect and monitor student understanding of learning before, during and after lessons for formative assessment.”

“I want to give each student an opportunity to contribute to a lesson topic and share ideas.” explains Jenny. “Having this done in an organized, scaffolded way would mean saving me time and providing better feedback for each student.”

“I also needed to differentiate and individualize the learning outcome for each student ”She continues. “Outside of the classroom, I wanted a tool that would help gather and organize ideas and feedback from staff meetings, P&C committees, and the School Board so that we have data for decision making.”

Teaching Strategy And Philosophy

Winthrop Primary operates on a Gradual Release of Responsibility instructional framework. Lessons begin by familiarising students with a concept and end with applying understandings and skills independently. GroupMap is used as an online graphic organizer to capture what students think and to facilitate classroom discusssion. It gives each student a voice and keeps them engaged. Teachers can give feedback, facilitate discussion and promote group learning.

Cotham says, “each lesson involves a lot of discussion with students where they can impart and articulate what they understood about the concepts and in turn, learn from each other.” She shares 4 ways she’s used GroupMap as part of her teaching practice and professional life.

1. Graphic Organizers for SMART Goal Setting

Developing a child’s ability to intrinsically set and strive for their own SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely) is a valuable life long skill.

Kicking off the term, Cotham asks her students to think about a SMART goal they want to set for themselves. This could range from behaviour to learning strategies to knowledge development.

Students working collaboratively on GroupMap

She asks what kind of challenges they think they might face and what support they needed (from her or others). Finally, she asked them to think about how they would measure their success.

Copy of blank Smart Goals Template – Implementation strategy

Each student enters their own goals in order to create their own printable copy, as well as a digital copy that can be seen by the teacher. “There’s room for individual input without being biased or influenced by what others have said“ Cotham explains.

Goals could be shared semi-anonymously with the whole group. In other words, students can’t see which goals belong to another student, but the teacher can.

As Cotham states, this also helps to “remove bias and the popularity contest. One of the kids the other day wrote that they could help with another person’s goal in GroupMap. They then realized it wasn’t their friend, but that’s not the point. They were to help anyone in the class.”

This allows them to see common goals and to build peer accountability into the classroom. It gives them the big picture and to feel like they are part of a community.

Whole class view of shared SMART Goal setting and planning.

“Going forward, I know which students need help and what kind of help. I can pair up students as needed. I can also ask them to comment on how they are going, and allows me to give me feedback.” explains Cotham.

2. Graphic Organizers For Classroom Brainstorming

What would happen if? That was the question put to students during Science when they had to brainstorm a list of variables that would impact how fast an alka seltzer tablet dissolves. (Rate of chemical reaction).

The activity was described to the class and the question was put to them. Using GroupMap as their graphic organizer, each student pair would add variables that they thought they could change as part of their experiment. This ranged from the type of liquid to the size of the tablet.

With the answers displayed in front of the class, Cotham and her colleague could easily facilitate group learning.

Watch it in action here.

Graphic organizers in action – a Science class

It’s pretty clear that teaching with technology can significantly enhance your lesson plan, make it more engaging for students when they are part of contributing to the class outcomes.

Best of all, there’s a lot less work for the teacher which is a great time saver. Evidence of learning and understanding can be seen immediately and feedback could be given in real-time. Debunking myths and recognizing thinking was a lot easier without production blocks, students being scared to be called out or having to collect all the ideas individually.

3. Graphic organizers for collaborative, fast staff meetings

As part of their ‘Be The Change Project’, Winthrop school aims to integrate a range of sustainability initiatives as part of the school culture.

The challenge was to bring all the staff onto the same page – and to share their current practices, as well as propose new ones. The statement proposed was:

How can we do that effectively so that everyone sees what is happening in the school, gain visibility into current projects and be inspired to create new ones?

GroupMap was for the teachers to share what they were already doing, as well as brainstorm activities around sustainability initiatives, strategies and tactics for the school. This started from a simple list-making exercise that could then be easily grouped into themes.

Common ideas grouped into themes

Cotham then created a brainstorming chart. On the horizontal axis was Local, National and Global to represent the geographic scope. On the vertical axis was the foci of programs such from pure sustainability to a focus on ATSI indigenous Australians.

Grouped ideas and activities could then be positioned across the chart in order to see where the current focus of the staff’s time, energy and resources were going.

Once all the grouped results were positioned, it was easy to visualize current projects in the school. Workload is reduced by identifying projects that could be worked on collaboratively. Opportunities to integrate projects and reduce workload could then be identified.

One of the initiatives explored was the Gardening Project, which teaches students to grow and harvest their own fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs. This helps them understand the food cycle, through to building a sense of community pride as well as getting their hands dirty with nature. They then used this in their own cooking classes and recycle any waste products back to the garden.

A benefit was that all staff instantly see opportunities to collaborate, understand current programs that the school was involved in and then build a sense of school pride.

The outcome, however, was just one benefit. Bringing together a large team of teachers to share their practice is a challenging exercise, let alone getting them to work on the same page. Cotham states “ we are seeing wider school adoption simply because we can use it at our staff meetings as well as the classroom. People get excited to use it and it helps us communicate what is happening a lot easier.”

4. Graphic Organizers For Lesson Planning

Teachers are well versed with the idea of the KWL template. It asks students to share ‘What they know’, ‘What they want to know’, and subsequently What they learned’.

Usually, this is done individually – student by student. This is great but just imagine the power of being able to share the collective wisdom of the group, pair up with research buddies and then reward learning by pointing out interesting facts and learnings.

In this example, Cotham asks students to first share what they already think they know about World War 1. Students are encouraged to “teach” each other based on what they already know. This is done semi-anonymously to avoid reticence.

This is a great way for the teacher to facilitate discussion and give feedback, debunk any myths and to reaffirm current knowledge.

Students share what they already know in a KWL template.

The next step asks them to add ideas about what they would like to learn or find out. This helps to build independent thinking and a sense of inquiry. Giving them more also means they are more engaged in their learning. After all, wouldn’t we all be more interested in something that we were curious about?

Cotham even went a step further to build reflective practice by having students look through the list and pick their top 3 areas of interest. Students could see what other kinds of questions people were asking.  Paired research becomes possible because you can group students with common interests together.

Alternative to Kahoot or Socrative quiz formats

It’s heart-warming to see the scope and diversity of questioning that students can come up with when given the opportunity. It creates agency and engagement. Teachers can better focus their time and energy on things that interest the students. They can quickly assess current understanding by harvesting the wisdom of the crowd.

All of these examples show how students move beyond selecting (and sometimes guessing) fixed answers from multiple-choice questions with Apps like Kahoot or Socrative.

Jenny Cotham’s tips for using GroupMap in the classroom

  1. There are so many options to help save you so much time. GroupMap supports a wide range of activities from student work, and classroom ideas to general brainstorming.
  2. Use the partially anonymous feature where you want to promote safety in the classroom. Ideas can be added by students without worrying about what their peers might say. But because you can see who said what and provide feedback to the relevant students.
  3. There are different formats from lists to charts to mind maps. So it’s good to mix up the activities to have a variety of activities.
  4. There’s definitely scope outside of the classroom. Perfect examples include staff input at Teacher Professional development days, PD workshops, and even board meetings.
  5. The lock map feature is really handy to stop students from typing and modifying the map. It helps me get their attention back to the front of the class when I need to give instructions for the next steps.

GroupMap exhibits innovative collaboration software at Gartner IT symposium.

GroupMap technology has been successfully nominated as one of the six Australian companies to showcase at the 2013 Gartner IT symposium. The nominations were made via the Department of Industry, Innovation,  Science, Energy, and Resources and represents a unique opportunity to network with CIOs from around the world, as well as receive private meetings with a Gartner Analyst. A big thank you to our supporters, fans, customers, and users who believe that collaboration is key within organisations and teams and its impact on learning, knowledge exchange, and decision making. We are pleased that our latest features continue to improve the quality and productivity of your meetings, workshops, and training activities. GroupMap is a cloud-based application for teams to brainstorm and collect responses at meetings, workshops, and boardrooms using customizable templates. Individual participants respond anonymously to a problem on their own which can then be shared with others. All responses are aggregated into a GroupMap for comment, discussion, and voting for action. This not only removes manual collation and coordination costs, but it also reduces the impact of groupthink and edit wars which improves the quality and productivity of the team.

Finally… “I” can come back into Team

We liked this… The secret to team collaboration: Individualism article.  

It echos the thought that collaboration isn’t just about collectivism. Consensus isn’t about Groupthink and that Teams are still made up of individuals.

It’s part of the reason why GroupMap makes things just a little more awesome. It allows individuals to create their own maps, have space to think and form their own opinions, critically analyzing the ideas from others. GroupMap then aggregates all that information into a collective form for voting and prioritizing for action.

Allowing each individual in the group to express their thoughts, form their opinion and then discover the common ground is the foundation block to building towards a collaborative state. The alternative feels like “well if no one is listening to me, then why should I bother listening to them.”

It makes you realize that in any room, the 3 most important views are yours, mine, and ours!