If you are a visual learner, then you likely have begun using the concept of mind-mapping to organize your thoughts when planning an essay or project. Because of its free-flowing nature, the mind-mapping process is spectacular for brainstorming ideas or making sense of the relationship between various components of any subject you are studying.
However, such a free-flowing process means that your hand-drawn mind map can become messy and cluttered very quickly. In the very same way that technology and word processing software has revolutionized the writing process, there are now many sites on the web that allow students to draw, manipulate and edit mind maps in a similar manner.
And because each is web-based, you can also collaborate with any classmates you choose to share the mind maps with, turning your creation into a wiki mind map if you so desire.
One simple and free web application that lets you brainstorm online is Bubbl.us. At the site you can create colorful mind maps and share those maps with your friends. In addition, you can easily use the site to create a visual that can then be embedded in a blog or website, be emailed, or saved as a standard image (and subsequently printed).
The folks at Tech Bites created a basic tutorial on Bubbl.us. If you have never used mind-mapping successfully, this tutorial also offers basic instructions as to how a mind-map comes together.
Another option with a free section is MindMeister. However, three of the four sign up categories do have monthly costs associated with them. The free version limits users to 6 mind maps though with the free version you can collaborate on those six maps with your peers. Like Bubbl.us you can export the maps as an image or rich text file and publish your creation to a blog or website. And of course, you can always delete or download one of your maps to keep your total under the limit.
One really cool feature on MindMeister is a base timeline. When working in collaboration, it could be very helpful to scroll back to earlier aspects of a map to the time prior to a colleague making adjustments. The site has a scroll bar at the base that allows you to look back at the evolution of your creation over time, a feature that could prove extremely important when you are collaborating with other students.
Yet another option offering a free platform (subscription levels also exist) is mindomo. The site also offers a desktop downloadable version so as to be able to work offline. For those wanting to learn more about the various aspects of mindomo.com there is a visual that allows users to examine the various toolbars on the site.
On the other hand, if you have not been exposed to the concept, you owe it to yourself to check one of the numerous tutorials on the web to explain how the concept works (two possible options are Tutorial A or Tutorial B). Most students indicate that once they have learned how to use the concept, the linear outlining format becomes an obsolete relic dating to the pre-PC era.