Map makeovers transform texts

February 15, 2002

A Dundee-based e-learning company has sent a Valentine email to 400,000 students in the hope of wooing them into transforming the way that they study textbooks.

Mindwarp Pavilion, founded by former medical senior lecturer Danny Ruta, has developed a set of online memorisation techniques based on the mind maps developed in the 1980s by Tony Buzan.

Mind maps use a series of headings and sub-headings that branch out like a family tree to present key facts and concepts.

As a student, Dr Ruta drew up his own mind maps to help him revise, with a friend writing a computer program for them.

"I thought it would be great if every textbook came with a ready-made set of mind maps, so I wrote to publishers and they said it was not commercially viable because nobody had a computer," he said.

In a more computer-friendly age, Mindwarp is drawing up agreements with academic publishers to mind map textbooks in a broad range of disciplines, including medicine, law, economics, sociology and psychology.

And it has signed a 12-month deal with the National Union of Students, whose website will promote the new learning system in its study tools section. NUS members are being offered discounted subscriptions. The NUS will be paid £1.50 for every student who registers.

Dr Ruta said the system aimed to help students study, since the average person forgot 80 per cent of what they read within 24 hours.

He said: "Textbooks are hopeless at getting information into your memory, because we remember through imagery and making associations. I would see medical students struggling to cope with huge amounts of information."

The interactive and animated Mindwarp mind maps allowed students to memorise information in a very short time, Dr Ruta said.

"You read the book, you go to the lecture, then you use the mind map as a very powerful way of getting it into your long-term memory," he said.

"The radiating, branching-tree structure starts from a central topic. If I were revising a chapter on lung cancer, for example, there would be main headings of causes and clinical features. Clinical features would split into two branches of symptoms and signs, and then there might be five key symptoms. It's a completely different way of presenting things."

Research showed that repeatedly reviewing information dramatically improved recall, Dr Ruta said. Mindwarp could automatically create a personalised study plan and examination revision calendar, sending the student email reminders.

Students can also edit and annotate the maps, and test themselves by blanking out the key words on the branches. Mindwarp is also targeting students in the United States, and Dr Ruta hopes that as the system develops, students will be able to benchmark themselves against the scores of students in other institutions.

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