Need to learn a niche fast? Learning something new always has, well, a learning curve. But if you want to shrink the time it takes to learn an entire niche, one of the most efficient and productive methods is to use mind mapping.
Workflow Benefits of Mind Mapping
There are literally hundreds of uses of mind maps, and mind mapping, but here are some of the important “work flow” reasons to use this process:
- Mixed map views. If you’re using mind mapping software, you usually have the luxury of switching between either detailed or high-level views of your maps at a click.
- Easy info gain. It’s fairly easy to record a variety of information about a niche: links, documents, images, notes, etc.
- Easy info organization. Because mind mapping software generally offer up a blank slate with loose hierarchy, you can organize information in a mind map in any way that you feel comfortable, within the parameters of the software’s features. If you’re using paper-based mind maps, then there are few restrictions. (Starting with paper maps and then transcribing to a digital mind map is something to consider, depending on whether you are researching online or from printed matter.)
- Easy info reorganization. It’s easy to shuffle around sections of a digital mind map, rearrange individual nodes, change hierarchies and sub-hierarchies.
- Easy to explore options. The organic nature of a mind map makes it easy to explore sub-niches or to look at various problems to be solved.
Reasons to Use a Mind Map for Learning
Here are just some of the things you can do with a mind map when it comes to learning a niche:
- Catalog what you already know about your niche.
- Catalog what you still have to learn (provided you know what that is).
- Produce a lesson plan for learning your niche topic.
- Manage your “learning” task list.
- Record whatever you learn along the way. (I.e., anything you didn’t know that you didn’t know.)
- Brainstorm an idea bank.
- List any niche-related problems that you need to solve.
- solve problems by exploring various problem solving techniques such as tunneling or color coded visual analysis.
There are other reasons that you’ll discover as you go along.
Suggested Process for Learning a Niche
Here is just one process you could use to learn a niche using mind maps.
- Find your starting point. If someone asked you what you know about a niche, you might draw a blank. So instead, start recording niche-relevant websites and web applications that you frequent. Add in links for software, books, magazines, etc., that you might recommend. If you don’t know where to start, try a niche search engine.
- voting sites
- industry sites
- “tips” articles
- Collect additional bookmarks. While you record bookmarks for websites you already know and are surfing, you might come across links to other sites and articles that may be useful. Don’t worry about the info hierarchy just yet. You can take care of organizing information later.
- Save RSS feed URLs. You can subscribe to RSS feeds in a feed reader such as Google Reader. Alternately, some mind mapping software (e.g., MindJet MindManager Pro 6 and up) even allows for creating sub-maps with RSS feed headlines. (MindJet calls them “smart map parts”.) You could also build your own custom feed aggregators, rivers of news, or news timelines, depending on how sophisticated your niche tracking needs to be.
- Dissect content. This is where your actual learning takes place. Everything else is just “setup” activity and maintenance. As you browse/ read an article, dissect it. Jot down salient points and concepts in your master mind map, or create a sub-map and link to it. Try to summarize the article’s information in point form, but in the form of a mind map. Because of the “radiant” nature of mind maps, information absorption is far easier than if you use straight lists.
- Reorganize info. When necessary, move mind map nodes around to suit your learning needs. Change the information hierarchy around until you find something easy to remember and maintain.
- Enhance your map. Emphasize various portions of your niche map, making sections and concepts and hieararchies distinctive aids in memory retention and learning. Some possible enhancements using mind mapping sofware are:
- Use different node shapes. E.g., circles, ovals, rectangles, lozenges, hexagons, etc.
- Use node background colors and textures.
- Use node border colors.
- Use connecting line colors and thicknesses.
- Use colored, bolded, and/or italicized text.
- Use different font sizes.
- Use icons to categorize nodes or sub-maps.
- Add images for emphasis.
- Use different map modes (layouts), if available.
- Use boundaries around clusters of related map nodes.
- Keep the info mapping process organic. Depending on the duration of your learning, you could be constantly adding new information as you come across it. It does not have to be a one-time, single session effort. So you’d be repeating some of the above steps as necessary.
The above process is merely suggested. Adjust it for your own needs and learning style.
So suppose you’re trying to learn (more) about photography. Your reasons could be one of many, and would actually dictate how you use mind maps to learn this niche. Some possible reasons:
- To become a photographer (or a better one).
- To write about photography.
- To teach photography.
- To learn to use photography in design.
There are of course other reasons, and each one requires a different starting level of knowledge about photography. So what information you mind map will differ from what someone else maps.
Let’s refine our example and say that you intend to write about photography, but that you do already know something about it. So you’re building on prior knowledge, but you want your mind map to be a master reference for the niche.
Now, what info might you map? The diagram below shows some possibilities.