Research has shown that, during the learning process, the human brain primarily remembers:
These findings are illustrated graphically in Figure 1.
In this figure, A, B and C indicate the improved recall of items which are associated or linked, and O the even higher recall of something which is outstanding or unique.
Note particularly how the general level of recall is best at the beginning of the study period and then declines, but recovers when the coffee break is in sight!
So your notes should ideally be associated in some way and linked to what you already know. Research on different types of notes has also found that brevity and personal involvement greatly increase their effectiveness:
|Effectiveness||Type of notes||How taken|
|Key word notes||Personally made|
|Sentence summary notes||Personally made|
|Complete transcript notes||Personally made|
Unfortunately, materials such as course handouts, academic papers and magazine articles are written in traditional linear literary form, like short books, with few pointers to what is important. An honourable exception is the trade press, where boxes (“pull quotes”) and other highlights are increasingly used in articles.
Some students find it helpful to highlight key concepts on prints of the course materials or items downloaded during web research. The danger is that too much is highlighted and the connections are not clear. Your notes should aim to supplement the linear form by pulling together the main points and showing how they relate to each other (that is, providing emphasis and association).
For any form of data, I find that being able to see it arranged graphically is very helpful, and would strongly commend the mind-mapping approach. It's also brilliant for taking notes at meetings – I've even projected notes while the meeting was taking place, so that everyone could see what they had said and its context!
This method is illustrated in Figures 2 and 3, in which a simple ‘Mind Map’ is built on the topic of stencil printing variables. In the most complete version, some of the groupings and causal linkages have been drawn and appropriate notes have been added.
Many people find it useful to use sketched visuals to supplement the Mind Map words, and different colours for emphasis. For the rationale for this, and to get a full flavour of what this technique can do, read The Mind Map Book by Tony and Barry Buzan, the most recent edition of which was published by BBC Books in 2003 (ISBN 0563487011) or consult some of the Web resources listed below.
In the hope that you will want to explore this concept further, I have provided some links to do with mind-mapping and similar topics:
The original Tony Buzan ideas (he copyrighted the term) are at http://www.mind-map.com/EN/mindmaps/definition.html, and in various of Tony's books. However, this site tends to branch out into ‘radiant thinking’ and contain too much philosophy for my taste.
The mindmap basics are summarised at http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newISS_01.htm.
The relationship between mind maps and concept maps is explained at http://www.physsci.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/developmentprojects/pdffiles/know_map.pdf.
Although aimed at undergraduates, and a bit simplistic, there is a nice set of ‘how to do it’ instructions at http://www.jcu.edu.au/studying/services/studyskills/mindmap/.
There some straightforward examples of mind maps for a range of applications at http://www.mind-mapping.co.uk/mind-maps-examples.htm.
I liked the range of resources at http://www.support4learning.org.uk/education/concept_maps_and_mind_maps.cfm.
The Mind Mapping Software Shop at http://www.illuminesoftware.co.uk/ is a resource for mind-mapping software. I have tried two packages:
The Mind Manager mind mapping tools (http://www.mindjet.com/uk/, from which you can download a free reader and demonstration software). I personally still use the 2002 version of Mind Manager, preferring its presentation format to more recent releases.
Ygnius MindGenius (http://www.mindgenius.com/) I bought, but don’t like much – it seemed at first sight to be less advanced than Mindjet, although it was claimed to be better integrated with Office.
Other packages are:
Conceptdraw (http://www.conceptdraw.com/en/) looks good from the visual point of view, but perhaps not worth buying as a replacement for software one owns.
OpenMind (http://www.matchware.net/en/products/openmind/default.htm) comes from the same stable as some other interesting products . . .
Enjoy exploring a new idea!