How to Create a Learning Map

by Al Bondigas
Whether working alone or in a group, a learning map can facilitate study.

Whether working alone or in a group, a learning map can facilitate study.

While normally associated with brainstorming sessions, learning maps also have a place in study. These maps, also known as concept maps, are related to the outline but have a less restrictive format, making them a natural option for taking notes. Learning maps, similar in appearance to flow charts and mind maps, can be used for lectures or for mapping out a report.

For Study

Choose your medium. A single sheet of paper or dry erase board. Either will work; if you're discussing a topic with a group, the dry erase board is best so everyone can see their thoughts going into the discussion. If you're mapping out something on your own, paper and pens work best.

Pick your topic. Condense your topic down to a word or two. For a learning map, a single word or short phrase works best. If the topic can't be condensed, use parts of that thought as branches from the central thought. The topic could be a problem you wish to dissect, a class lecture or even a chapter you want to study.

Write that central topic down at the bottom, corner, or center of the paper or white board and circle it. That topic serves as the root to the whole learning map. You may want to use a different color; you want that root thought to stand out.

Write down further thoughts as they come up from your study. Put them down on the map as branches off the root thought, radiating outward. Draw lines connecting them to the root, and label the connections, like this: "My dog (has) four feet, fleas, bad breath," with each attribute branching from the "has." Use the branches to organize as you go.

Pay attention to which branches draw the most attention and attract the most thoughts. If one part of the learning map is much larger than the others, that's fine.

Analyze the tree map after a predetermined time, or after ideas start to run out. You should see at least one central theme among the branches, and often more than one.

In a Discussion Group

Write the central topic in the center of the dry-erase board and circle it.

Discuss the topic. As points come up, write them down on the board and connect them to the central topic.

Don't prejudge any thoughts as they come up. In fact, ideas may start sounding crazy as the brainstorming session progresses. This is fine; often the best ideas come up after all the "logical" ones have been exhausted.

Things You Will Need

  • Paper or whiteboard
  • Pens or dry-erase markers


  • Work quickly with the learning map; it is better to just get the thought down without worrying about where to put it on the map.
  • Use different colored pens or markers; if nothing else it will keep the map visually stimulating.


  • If you're using tree maps to coordinate a group brainstorm session, you may feel foolish until the group gets the idea of what you're doing.
  • Once the ideas start coming in, prepare to write fast.

About the Author

Al Bondigas is an award-winning newspaperman who started writing professionally in 1985. His print credits include the "Mohave Valley Daily News" and "The Mohave County Standard." Bondigas studied journalism at San Bernardino Valley College in California.

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