WHY USE WISDOMMAPS?
WisdomMaps have been in use since 2014 in teaching history for various colleges, resulting in a demonstrably greater learner engagement with history than what usually occurs with the traditional textbook-based approach to teaching and learning history. This has happened in several ways:
WisdomMaps represents a new way of organizing information that mimics the human thought process and results in greater learner engagement and better learning. This is impossible for other learning methodologies based on “linear learning” to achieve on account of the limitations of “spaghetti code”: information imbibed like slurping up a strand of spaghetti, that is read or heard one sentence or phrase at a time. Spaghetti code is difficult to untangle and organize, and most learners retain only a small fraction of what they read or hear in this fashion.
WisdomMaps enable the intake of information by association, which conforms to the way the human thought process naturally works. They enable the learner to retain far more that they would with traditional learning, because the topics they focus on are relevant to their interests. Better to allow learners to discover and engage a new subject on their own, as a natural and relevant follow-on to their existing interests, than to confront the learner with something new and dissociated that they may see no immediate relevance in.
Learners learn best when they’re having fun and when the topics of their study are relevant to their interests. The multimedia that WisdomMaps link to enable learners to watch videos of their choosing on topics that interest them. Studies have determined that learners learn several times as much from 15 minutes spent watching a video on a topic than from the same amount of time spent reading about it. The present generation is one of visual learners who like to “trip the light fantastic” on the internet and absorb the essences of whatever web resources and multimedia they encounter… and then move on; learners have less and less patience with being immersed in long static passages of text, and perhaps it’s true that the more learning comes to resemble a video game, the more they’ll like it.
WisdomMaps expose learners to hundreds of topics in each course, with each topic linked to multimedia resources that enable them to delve as deeply as they like into those topics that interest them; there are no limits to the exercise of their curiosity. In the process, learners encounter new interests that they never imagined they might have. WisdomMaps foster this sense of discovery and shared learning adventure.
In the process of each leaner contributing their discoveries and insights, the group is exposed to dozens of topics (both salient and obscure) in each session, which together provide a comprehensive treatment of the subject being studied that week (yes, there is some replication, but even the replications usually offer a different take on the topic). Students like to “wander and wonder” and share the discoveries of their learning adventures with their classmates, and teachers appreciate having the ability to engage and personally mentor their students directly on the maps. In this way, history maps become a big creative sandbox for all.
Many teachers will agree that the best way to learn something is to teach it (however badly at first). Students generally learn as much from their peers as they do from their teachers. Their collaboration with each other on the maps enables them to teach each other, and in doing so, an astonishingly productive learning process begins to unfold. Learning is a social activity that benefits best from either a teacher or a friend who personally elicits the curiosity of the other (the closer their proximity, the better). Discussion forums in most online courses seem sterile and dissociated, and are inadequate for collaborative learning, since learners are deprived of the kind of direct engagement (with the map’s information and multimedia and with each other and their mentor) that can be had by collaborating on the maps.
While some learners may draw upon more scholarly resources and multimedia for their journals, others may contribute resources that are more colorful and viscerally engaging; each learner contributes at their own level and in their own voice (a social process that everyone enjoys), and everyone has an engaging and productive learning adventure. But it is the “talented tenth” (or two-tenths) in any given class that benefit the most from having no limits on the exercise of their curiosity; these are the students who report that they’ve been up most of the night getting happily lost in the maps.
I have my students develop weekly PowerPoint presentations to post in the discussion forums, along with commentaries on their review of their classmates’ journals. When each student contributes several topics to the weekly mix, the result is that the class is exposed to a large range of topics that together provide a comprehensive and quite lively view of the subject being covered that week. They like teaching each other in their own words (however humble), and they especially enjoy the opportunity to view each other’s work.
WisdomMaps work well when paired with a text (which serves as the student’s anchor to windward, so to speak). The text helps students keep to the historical narrative, but the maps encourage the learner to peruse a wide range of topics and to uncover and delve into new interests (by way of all the multimedia in WisdomMaps). This in turn whets their appetite for the subject and hopefully spawns an enduring interest. After all, any proper engagement with history deserves a lifetime, not 16 weeks. And perhaps this answers to the highest pedagogical purpose of all: to instill a lifelong passion for learning.