Learning Technologies Newsletter

ISSUE 20 - February 2007 - by Phil Chambers

TIME TO READ: 5 minutes (Average Reader), less than a minute (Speed Reader) - Word Count: 1,126. To learn more about Speed Reading Contact us.

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Welcome to the February issue of the Learning Technologies Newsletter, Please continue to forward it to friends and colleagues who you think would find it useful.

This month, as well as our regular quote of the month, we take an in-depth look at the Mind Mapping rules and have news of research into the brains of left-handed people.

February's Quote of the Month

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity;
an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."


Winston Churchill.

For many more quotes click here.

Mind Mapping - Reasonable Rules

I always give a tip each month about Mind Mapping but rarely talk about it in detail in my main article. One of the biggest problems people have with Mind Mapping is that they often feel constrained by a set of seemingly arbitrary 'rules' that must be followed. I was reminded about this reading some of the comments on an online forum that I occasionally contribute to. To set the record straight I thought I'd take a few of the rules, explain some of the underlying reasons for them and supporting research:

Why use colour?

Colour can have a dramatic impact on memory and attention. Research in the marketing industry shows that colour visuals increases willingness to read by 80% and positively affects motivation and participation to a similar degree (1).

It has also been shown that effective use of colour increases attention span by up to 82%, understanding of a presentation by 70% and recall by 60%.(2)

Why use images?

When you read a novel the author helps you to make mental pictures. If you have to describe the plot to someone else you will draw upon those pictures to explain what happens to the characters. You would never repeat a single sentence from the book verbatim, unless you were required to learn certain speeches from a Shakespearian play, for example. It is natural for us to form images in our heads to make sense of things. So it is also natural to represent concepts on a Mind Map with images.

Training materials used by the USA federal government cite studies that suggest 83% of learning occurs visually (3).You will find that the more images you use the more memorable the Mind Map will become.

Why use curved lines?

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line so it would be logical to assume that Mind Maps should use straight lines. However, this neglects two important properties of Mind Maps:

  1. Words are written on lines and these are more easily read closer to the horizontal that the vertical.
  2. The structure of a Mind Map radiates outwards so branch networks need to be horizontally elongated to achieve this.

The result is that curved lines make much better use of space.

We usually only have between 5 and 9 main branches. This is for two reasons. Firstly, more than 9 and the Mind Map gets overcrowded. Secondly you can hold 7±2 'chunks' of information in your short term memory at any one time (4).

The space between each group of branches is also important to each main theme distinct. This also improves the aesthetics of a Mind Map.

Why use single words?

We use single key words to keep the structure compact. As soon as you add a phrase or sentence on a line it disrupts the efficient structure. If it is imperative that you need a phrase (such as a direct quote in English Literature) you can use a speech bubble. This should be a rare exception.

Single words also allow for more associations than phrases therefore improving both creativity and memory.

Creative Variety

In the field of cybernetics William Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety (5) states, "the variety in the control system must be equal to or larger than the variety of the perturbations in order to achieve control". This means that the more variety and options open the more able a system is to adapt to change. A Mind Map adds more options with each level out from the centre so is an ideal tool for generating creative approaches to change.

Variety is important to memory. We remember far better thing that are unusual, unique of different from their surroundings. This is known as the von Restorff effect, named after psychologist Hedwig von Restorff (6). Mind Maps make great use of this effect adding perspective to represent 3-dimensional objects, different shaped, coloured and patterned branches. Colour codes, symbols and images. This not only improves memory but also stimulates imagination and maintains interest.

The introduction of a large amount of variety to a Mind Map makes each one unique. This has the benefit the no two Mind Maps can become confused with each other in your memory.


  1. Green, Ronald E. (October 1989) The Persuasive Properties of Color. Marketing Communications
  2. White, Jan V. (1997) Color for Impact: How Color Can Get Your Message Across - Or Get in the Way, Strathmore Press,U.S
  3. (May 1996) Presenting Effective Presentations with Visual Aids, U.S. Dept. of Labor, OSHA Office of Training and Education
  4. George A Miller (1956). The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information. The Psychological Review, vol. 63, pp. 81-97
  5. Ashby W.R. (1958): "Requisite Variety and Implications for Control of Complex Systems", Cybernetica 1, p. 83-99.
  6. von Restorff, Hedwig (1933). Analyse von Vorgangen in Spurenfeld. I. Über die Wirkung von Bereichsbildung im Spurenfeld. Psychologische Forschung , 18 , 299-342.

Neuroscience News

Researchers in Australia claim that left-handed people use both sides of their brain more easily and can think quicker when playing sports or computer games.

Study leader Dr. Chris Cherbuin from the Australian National University found that extreme left-handed individuals were 43 millisonds faster at spotting matching letters across the right and left visual fields (a task that requires using both sides of the brain).

Dr Cherbuin said that people tend to use both cerebral hemispheres for tasks that are very fast or very hard and which require interpretation of a lot of information such as computer games, driving in heavy traffic or playing sport.

To our knowledge no research has been done into whether left-handers are better Mind Mappers. A task that is also said to engage both sides of the brain!

For the full story click here.

That's all for this month. If you have any comments, suggestions or would like more information about our courses please feel free to contact me.