It amazes me that generally, students are still not taught how to learn – the one basic skill that you would think is fundamental for successful education. Things are changing and as the awareness in the brain’s capability increases it is becoming more and more accepted that we can learn how to learn. Schools and education authorities worldwide are beginning to incorporate “Accelerated Learning” concepts and principles but progress is still painfully slow.
My subject this month will be of value to new visitors and regulars alike and covers a technique that will help you swiftly and easily get through your study text books. It is called the Mind Map Organic Study Technique (MMOST) and was devised byTony Buzan, the renowned inventor of the Mind Map.
I can remember how difficult it was to get motivated to work through a text book when I was studying at university (unfortunately I discovered these techniques after I graduated). I would get my books out, tidy my desk, sharpen my pencils, all with the best of intentions yet very quickly get distracted by anything ranging from an interesting documentary on TV to the offer of a game of squash with one of my friends. Although it was essential and important to study it was much easier to find an excuse not to do the work. Does this sound familiar to you too? The Mind Map Organic Study Technique can help you deal with this.
This technique is divided into two parts – Preparation and Application.
This part of the technique is vitally important and should never be overlooked as it helps create the right frame of mind for the studying to come. It consists of:
- A swift browse through the book
- Defining limits on how long you will work for and how much you will study
- Mind Mapping what you already know about the subject
- Asking questions and setting goals
Lets go through each one of these in turn.
1. The Browse – This first activity should be approached as through you are in a book shop flicking through the pages of a book you are considering buying. Get a good general “feel” of the book by noting its structure, layout, use of diagrams and density of text. This will give you a good overview of the nature of the material that you are about to study.
2. Limits for time and amount – One of the most demoralizing parts of studying is being faced with a mountainous volume of text books to learn and digest and this is because it is very difficult to see the completion of this activity which must end at some point in the future. This undefined point in time, this unknown causes a high degree of stress. The brain likes to complete things and so by defining the time and amount to be studied it will be given very clear instructions on what is required of it and is less likely to be distracted.
3. Mind Map What You Know – This is a vital part of the preparation process and should never be overlooked or underestimated. By spending 5 minutes doing a quick mind map of what you know, you are priming your mind for the learning to come. As an analogy, you are beginning to open up the ‘files’ in that part of your memory. You may find yourself hitting a blank and find it difficult to recall something that you feel you should know. Don’t worry about that because when you come across it again the “Aha, that’s what it was” will be a strong emotional event that will reinforce the knowledge into your memory.
4. Ask Questions and Set Goals – You may or may not agree with this statement, but you do not need to know absolutely everything that is contained in every single one of your text books. Some will require more in depth reading than others and this part of the preparation phase of the MMOST will help you define exactly what you want from the text book. Not only will it help you set a limit on how much you will read but it will also assist in priming your mind with a list of the issues you want from the book.
By setting clear goals and objectives you will find that words, paragraphs, heading and diagrams will “jump out” at you from the page. It is a strange experience when it first happens but all it is, is your mind drawing your attention to what you have defined is important to you.
The first part only takes 20 minutes so now after that you are ready to apply yourself to the second part of this process.
The second part of the MMOST consists of the following stages:
1. Overview – When you do the browse as part of the Preparation phase it is as simple as flicking through the book to get a feel of it. The Overview takes this one stage further and concentrates on getting a graphical feel of the contents. For example trace diagrams with your finger or a pointer of some sort. This will not only give you a visual memory of the diagram but also a kinaesthetic (feeling) memory of the material. Again, this is an important step to go through as one friend of mine relayed to me once. He knew of a student who waded through a 450 page text book only to find that the last 50 pages contained a summary of the entire book which was all he needed to read in the first place.
2. Preview – After the Overview, the next stage is to conduct the preview. Now you are beginning to look at the language structure of the book and your focus should be on the beginning and end of paragraphs, sections and chapters. You would also look for any summary or conclusions. Remember that you do not have to read everything because your by setting your goals and asking questions in the preparation phase, you are in a strong position to select and reject information that you know you do not need.
3. Inview – Now you can begin to start filling in the gaps that are left after the Overview and Preview phases by targeting parts of the book even further. Always remember to select what is useful to you and reject what is not.
4. Review – This stage should tie up any loose ends by providing information to ensure that the goals you set in the preparation stage are met.
5. Mind Mapping – This really isn’t a stage in itself as to get the most out of the MMOST you should be building up a growing Mind Map as each stage progresses. By doing this you will be able to capture, integrate and understand the relationship of new material with that already covered. For larger books and topic areas you should create “Mega Mind Maps” so that the whole subject can be seen on a single page
6. Continuing Review – I am fortunate enough to have taught thousands of people to Mind Map over the last couple of years but I still meet some people who say that they have tried Mind Mapping for revision but have found that it never worked for them. When I probe a little deeper into how they applied themselves to the technique, I discover that invariably their lack of success has come down to not completing this step. When a Mind Map is first completed, the information that it represents is very fresh in the Mind Mapper’s mind so single key words carry significant meaning at that moment in time. If the Mind Map is put to one side and left for a few months, when it comes to revision all that the Mind Map will be is a gathering of key words with no apparent value beyond the meaning of that word. In order to maintain the level of meaning it is vitally important that the Mind Map is reviewed on an ongoing basis until it is firmly held in memory.
In “Use Your Head“, Tony Buzan gives a wonderful analogy of this process by likening it to the most effective way of putting together a large jigsaw puzzle. Look at the box to get an overall idea of the picture, find the corners then the edges. Gather together the pieces of the same colour/design and put them together and finally fill in the gaps with the pieces that are left.
This technique is well worth the effort and although it may feel a little strange at first, once you get the hang of it you will wonder why you ever read a text book from start to finish.