Study Better with Visual Thinking at Biggerplate Unplugged Utrecht


Thanks to Liam Hughes and the Biggerplate team who invited me to introduce my method : Study Better with Visual Thinking.  It was in Biggerplate Unplugged in Utrecht, on Wednesday the 9th of October.

I already published an article about my five step method “How to study better with visual thinking“.  But the wonderful Biggerplate team invited me to introduce it during the Biggerplate Unplugged event in Utrecht on Wednesday the 9th of October.

I made a prezi presentation about it, I hoped it was good enough to make a nice talk and I sent the package to Liam Hughes.

So on Wednedsday, I was right in front of a panel of mindmappers from all over Europe :  from Spain to Scotland through Belgium, France and the Netherlands.   And I showed them this :

Of course, I was not the only speaker that day : find the other very interesting speakers of that Biggerplate Unplugged Utrecht on the Biggerplate Unplugged Utrecht page.

Next appointment : San Francisco in March 2014.  See you there ?

How to study efficiently in five steps with visual thinking !


How to study faster and better ?  How to memorize things ?  How to understand better ?  How to get ready for the next exam ?  Here is my method in five steps to study better with visual thinking and memory techniques.

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If you examine the main difficulties of the students, in secondary school as well as at the university, it seems that “learning to learn” is the key expression.  Some teachers event refuse to admit that there is such thing as “learning to learn“.

And yet, I’ve helped a lot of student by teaching them this method : everybody has the potential to learn better.  If you get the appropriate method and the right tools.

This is also the method I’m going to talk about at the Biggerplate Unplugged in Utrecht on the 9th of October.  Don’t miss that fantastic event !

So, I gathered the five steps and some concepts here on this mindmap : (click on the picture to maximize it.  You can also download this Study Better mindmap for free on my Biggerplate page.)

How to learn better and faster ?  Using visual thinking and memory techniques
Study Better in Five Steps

I’ll consider each stage in detail in articles to come.  But let’s review the whole method here  !

First step : Reboost your motivation !

In order to learn, you need to be motivated.

So, think about your studies as a project.  Each of your courses can be considered as a project with Smaart goals, deadlines, tasks to achieve.

I personally use an adapted version of GTD with Mindmeister.

Handle your workload with the GTD method and a Mindmeister mind map
An adapted GTD dashboard for students

Define your goals and your motivations : why do I study ?  Whom do I study for ?  Myself ?  My parents ?  My professors ?  My girlfriend ?

What do I want to achieve ?  What kind of profession do I want to do later ?  What are the stages, the necessary training, the adequate degrees to reach that long term goal ?

What do I like ?  What do I really want to learn ?

If you know yourself and what you want to achieve, if you have the right tool to handle the workload of studies, you can succeed.  And guess what ?  Succeeding is the best way to succeed !  What I mean is : succeed in small things first, that will strenghten your selfconfidence, and you’ll be able to succeed in bigger stuff.  And finally, you’ll succeed in your studies as well!

Second step : get back in touch with your course

The day itself, when you go back home, open your books and reread your notes : read slowly, let the ideas get back to you.

Jot down some notes with a mind map : I don’t know any more powerful or efficient tool to summarize something than mind mapping !

The association of keywords, colours, images, branches, place on the sheet, everything concurs to memorize and understand better than with boring linear notes.

This is the best way to understand the structure of your course, how elements and concepts are linked together.  This is something most students have difficulties with…

Try to remember what the teacher or the professor said.  Try to identify what you don’t really understand and ask for some explanation.  This is the right time to do so : you have fresh ideas, it will be easier to connect the new concepts to what you already know.  Futhermore, if you wait for the day before the exams, everybody will be busy and who will waste that precious time to share something with you ?

Third step : reactivate your memory

The secret of memorizing is : first, understand what you learn.  Create links and associations with what you already know.

Make another mindmap or complete the one you started at the previous step.  Then, try to ask your own questions, with the 5 W’s & 2 H’s method.  This is a very old and efficient way to learn.

When you summarized the course with your mindmap, you entered the matter through the professor’s path.  It was His or Her structure.

By asking questions over the course, you’ll build your own path, your own way to question and to understand everything.

How to question your course and to understand it deeper ? by asking Quintilian's 7 questions
Quintilian’s method

Fourth step : reuse the course

When you read your books and your notes, you use some groups of neurons in your brain.  But when you sit for the examination, you’ll have to answer questions or write a paper about that course.  And those are different cognitive skills which use other parts of your brain.  So, you have to train the right groups of neurons to succeed…

Use concept maps to grasps the different concepts.  Use flashcards to memorize definitions, names, formulas.  Use devices like XMind2Anki to turn your mindmap into a deck of flashcards.

Fifth step : revise and exercise

The best way to learn on the long run is to vary the tools and the techniques : use bubble and doublebubble maps to compare two objects or groups of concepts.

Teach !  Tell your stuff to a person who doesn’t know anything about it.  This is the best way to learn : why do you think professors know their courses so well ?  Because they keep on teaching it !

In order to explain something, you have to understand it very deeply, to the minute details…

So, train, review, exercise, vary the methods and the techniques.   This is the secret : use your whole brain !

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Studying with visual thinking : compare with double-bubble maps


Do you need to make comparison in your studies? Do you want to compare two organizations or two situations and you are doubtful on how to do it? The double-bubble maps are a powerful visual tool for this type of operation!

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Whether during your studies or your career, you are requested to conduct comparisons. For example, the teacher asks you to identify the differences and commonalities between two corporate structures, as in the map below.

This was carried out with the mind mapping software called XMind. (Double-click on the image to enlarge. You can also download it from the website Biggerplate).

Double bubble map designed with XMind
Double Bubble map : ideal tool for comparison

The “double-bubble” map obtained compares two types of business organization: the product  or divisional structure and departmental or functional structure. It was conducted during a coaching session with a student in the preparation for the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) examination, a professional accounting certification which is popular in the Anglo-Saxon world.

The bubbles from the centre represent the categories considered: suitable for (for any type of business structure that is appropriate) Organization (structure on which criteria is organized) Growth (what is the impact of this type of organization on growth and so on).

Mind map or concept map?

Originally, XMind is not configured to function with this type of structure, even if the software offers many different structures. To make this map, I used the method of creating a concept map:

How to use floating topics to create a double bubble map in XMind
Floating topics in XMind

First, create a floating topic by double-clicking at the bottom of the map, then you draw a relationship (CTRL L) from the floating topic and click at the bottom of the map. This again creates a new floating topic.

To create this map, I used the central topic as the title: the central subject cannot be moved and it can be a serious handicap if I need to make any changes to my map. Each bubble of this mind map is a floating topic while the “branches” are in fact relationships (arrows in XMind lingo).

The problem is that topics have a kind of “magnetism” : they are attracted to each other, if they are too close. Even while pressing the ALT key, it is not always easy to add a new topic in the middle.

While this map is related to mindmaps, it is somehow built and functions according to the principles used in developing the concept maps in XMind.

This gave me the idea to use other software to create this type of map: VUE also known as Visual Understanding Environment.

Double bubble in VUE

VUE is clearly a concept mapping software (or concept maps), created by Tufts University. This software is configured to position objects – subjects and relationships – with each other.

Here, there is no “magnetism” if the objects are close to each other. And they can be moved at will without disturbing others’ alignments. (Double-click on the image to enlarge to maximum).

How to make a comparison between two organizational structures with a map
The VUE Double Bubble Map

The result is essentially the same, but the implementation is much easier!

I will demonstrate the uses of this concept mapping software and its features later on in other posts.

Why use XMind to create such type of maps, since it is more difficult than VIEW, for instance? Everyone is accustomed to VIEW software. Moreover, when working on a project with several topics altogether in the same workbook maps, it may be easier to add a sheet to this workbook. It also allows you to create direct links between maps in the workbook.

It is also possible to link a map with a  extrernal VUE map using the connection through a hyperlink: simply place the path to the file in the “File” field from the dialog box as shown below:

How to insert a hyperling toward an external VUE file
Insert the file path in the File field

This places an icon in the selected topic. When you click on this icon, the VUE file opens (if the program is on your computer).

Try both, the XMind and VUE softwares and keep the one that suits you most, or if you’re like me, keep them both and you’ll be able to work and adapt in both environments!

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