Mind mapping for learning design

UPDATED: when you’ve read this, see my latest update on Gráinne Conole’s latest contributions to these ideas, linked at the end.

Mind map of CompendiumLD showing Getting StartedThe past 30 years in education research has seen the influx of big ideas from computer science, social anthropology, design and even architecture. We now say learning is situated in authentic social contexts many call communities of practice.

This has had some pretty significant effects on research itself (e.g., ethnographic case studies, action research), and learning design tools, themselves designed to reflect this current situation, but for reasons I won’t waste any more time pondering, the uptake still seems relatively slow. Gráinne Conole, with others at the Institute of Educational Technology, Open University UK, looked into an idea/concept/mind mapping tool, Compendium, that was already under development there, and in yet another demonstration of the efficacy of open source, created CompendiumLD, Compendium “Learning Design,” allowing designers to visualize the many connections that exist within learning situations. I believe such tools will play an increasingly important role in the design, planning and implementation of learning experiences.

A mind map learning design built in CompendiumLD,  emphasizing reflection.

A mind map learning design built in CompendiumLD, emphasizing reflection. Source: Conole (2007), Using Compendium as a tool to support the design of learning activities.

In a chapter draft you can read in its entirety here, Conole explains in great detail. It has a good discussion of the history and theory behind design learning along with many illustrations of their work with learning designers actually using CompendiumLD, such as the one shown here. I've listed a small mountain of research, much of it available on-line, in bibliography below.

I’ve explored this and another fabulous educator-driven mind-mapping project, this one located at Tufts University, appropriately named the Visual Understanding Environment (VUE).

Mind map being created in VUE.

It takes only seconds to outline a map in Visual Understanding Environment’s intuitive interface.

I find it has a more intuitive interface than Compendium’s, as well as vector handles on the connecting lines that make it possible to produce attractive maps quickly. It also has a presentation mode that makes PowerPoint seem two-dimensional and “so last century,” and the ability to quickly generate an image map in a web page (that uses jQuery!) with links to external resources. Compendium also does web export (alas it’s still a bit last century1). But Compendium’s icon-based model has a firm foundation in cognitive research; I believe Conole et al. have given designers some powerful means of capturing, visualizing and illustrating practice and ultimately of making thinking and learning visible—among the primary goals of emerging online apprenticeship models of project-based learning situations.

My map of a learning activity I'll be hosting here in the spring.

My own CompendiumLD map of a learning activity I’ll be hosting here in the spring.

I’m currently using VUE to describe an entire project I’ve been working on for some time now, and CompendiumLD for specific activities that I plan to include within the project (or projects) that come from it. It’s not quite ready for show and tell but I’ve seen several recent tweets about “mind mapping” in #edchat and from my own Twitter PLN, so I wanted to mention these two highly advanced, open source tools and their learning design orientation in advance. It will appear here within the next several weeks. Until then, download both tools and enjoy the light reading I offer in the biblio, and/or my earlier post including an article about mind-mapping as a lesson plan.

To learn more about both the importance—and difficulty—of Design Based Research (DBR) see Dede (2004).

SOFTWARE SITES, in their own words:

CompendiumLD learning design software. CompendiumLD is a software tool for designing learning activities using a flexible visual interface. It is being developed as a tool to support lecturers, teachers and others involved in education to help them articulate their ideas and map out the design or learning sequence. Feedback from users suggests the process of visualising design makes their design ideas more explicit and highlights issues that they may not have noticed otherwise. It also provides a useful means of representing their designs so that they can be shared with others. CompendiumLD provides a set of icons to represent the components of learning activities; these icons may be dragged and dropped, then connected to form a map representing a learning activity. http://compendiumld.open.ac.uk/

The Visual Understanding Environment (VUE) is an Open Source project based at Tufts University. The VUE project is focused on creating flexible tools for managing and integrating digital resources in support of teaching, learning and research. VUE provides a flexible visual environment for structuring, presenting, and sharing digital information. https://vue.tufts.edu/

What surely must be the definitive list, “Vic’s compendium of software that supports knowledge management and information organisation in graphical form. Includes mind mappers, concept mappers, outliners, hierarchical organisers, KM support and knowledge browsers, 2D and 3D.” http://www.mind-mapping.org/


  1. I learned on December 15, 2012 in Compendium Institute Newsgroup Digest #1389, that Compendium itself will receive a long overdue overhaul, and the source code seems to be finding its way to more friendly repositories. This WMV recording of a Compendium developer meeting has details, and may also be of interest simply to see how Compendium is used to add idea-mapping to the task of recording minutes.

UPDATE: See my post on Gráinne Conole’s forthcoming chapter, Overview of “trajectories of e-learning”

Reference and further reading:

Collins, Allan & Joseph, Diana & Bielaczyc, Katerine (2004), Design Research- Theoretical and Methodological Issues, The Journal of the Learning Sciences, Vol. 13, No. 1, Design-Based Research: Clarifying the Terms. Introduction to the Learning Sciences Methodology Strand (2004), pp.15-42

Conole (2007), Using Compendium as a tool to support the design of learning activities, (PDF) retrieved 2012-11-11.

Conole, G. (2007a), ‘Describing learning activities: tools and resources to guide practice’ in Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age, H. Beetham and R. Sharpe (Eds), Oxford: RoutledgeFalmer.

Conole, G. (2008), ‘Capturing practice: the role of mediating artefacts in learning design’, in L. Lockyer, S. Bennett, S. Agostinho, and B. Harper (Eds), Handbook of Research on Learning Design and Learning Objects: Issues, Applications and Technologies.

Conole, Gráinne; Brasher, Andrew; Cross, Simon; Weller, Martin; Nixon, Stewart; Clark, Paul and Petit, John (2008). A new methodology for learning design. In: Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications (EDMEDIA), 30 June – 4 July 2008, Vienna.

Cross, Simon; Galley, Rebecca; Brasher, Andrew and Weller, Martin (2012). OULDI-JISC Project Evaluation Report: the impact of new curriulum design tools and approaches on institutional process and design cultures. OULDI Project (Open University) PDF retrieved 2012-12-12.

Dede, C. (2005). Why design-based research is both important and difficult. Educational Technology 45, 1 (January-February), 5-8. PDF

Geertz, Clifford (1973) Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture, pp. 3-30, in The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays, NY: Basic Books, 470 pages.

LAMS, J. (2008). Andrew Brasher, Gráinne Conole, Simon Cross, Martin Weller, Paul Clark, Juliette White, CompendiumLD – a tool for effective, efficient and creative learning design. Proceedings of the 2008 European LAMS Conference: Designing the Future of Learning

OULDI-JISC (2012) Final Project Report of the OULDI-JISC Project: Challenge and Change in Curriculum Design Process, Communities, Visualisation and Practice. PDF

Rittel, Horst and Melvin Webber (1973) “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning,” Policy Sciences 4, Elsevier Scientific Publishing, Amsterdam, pp. 155-159.

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