How to Use Mind Maps for Instructional Design

In the field of instructional design, mind maps are an increasingly popular way to organize thoughts and collaborate within a team. During the design process, instructional designers often need to outline courses, brainstorm ideas and collaborate with subject matter experts. Fortunately, mind mapping — and MindMeister in particular — can help with all of the above. Let’s explore some of the top ways that instructional designers can use mind maps to create better course content.

How to Use Mind Maps for Instructional Design

My name is Devlin Peck, and I’m an instructional design consultant with years of experience helping clients create awesome eLearning products. In this post, I’ll explain some of the ways in which MindMeister has helped me in my work, including an effective new technique: Action Mapping.

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Traditional Approaches to Instructional Design

Historically, the process of instructional design has been executed as follows: Learning objectives are identified collaboratively with a subject matter expert (SME), and a mind map can be used to expand on these in a clear way. 

This has proved to be a highly effective approach, as well as a very simple one. During the meeting, you simply place the course topic or title at the center of the map and ask what the desired outcome at the end of the course should be. Responses can be translated clearly into measurable objectives, which enables you to lay out the blueprint for your course. Your mind map thus becomes a course or program map as it is expanded. 

An example structure would be as follows: 

  • The program goal as the central topic. 
  • The courses that make up the program as the first-level topics.
  • The modules within these courses as second-level topics. 
  • The lessons within each module as lower-level topics.

You can add infinite detail to your instructional design mind map: simply create further subtopics to identify the specific activities that you would include in each lesson.

The Alternative: Action Mapping

Despite the benefits of the traditional approach, new and performance-oriented ideas for instructional design have emerged. Action mapping is a streamlined instructional design approach for the business world that relies on mind mapping software. If you’re new to action mapping, the key difference between this technique and traditional instructional design approaches is this: instead of focusing on topics and information that clients think their audiences “need to know,” action mapping is goal-oriented, geared towards specific business objectives.

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In other words, instead of starting with a course topic, the process of action mapping begins with identifying a clear business goal, usually in a kickoff meeting with the client and SMEs. Once you’ve identified the goal, you simply place it at the center of your action map. This map will be visible to everyone at the meeting as you build it.

From this point, you can work with your client and SMEs to determine which actions the intended audience must take to achieve the goal. SMEs are often tempted to lean towards the traditional approach detailed above. However, as the instructional designer, you can ensure that only clear, goal-specific actions make it onto the map.

Eventually, you will have generated enough ideas to clearly depict the necessary actions towards achieving the stated business goal. With everyone on the same page regarding these steps, it becomes much easier to discuss appropriate training modules and practice activities.

As an instructional designer, I love using MindMeister for this process, because the tool makes it so easy to collaborate. When I am in planning meetings, I share my screen, which shows everybody present which topics have made it onto the action map. I also use keyboard shortcuts to speed things up. Some of my favorite time-savers are ENTER to add a new “sibling” idea and TAB to create a new child idea. 

Find out more about keyboard shortcuts in MindMeister in our Help Center.

After the action mapping session, I share a link to the action map so that people can review it, leave comments and make necessary changes before the next meeting. 

Further Uses

Beyond traditional instructional design and action mapping, MindMeister can be used by instructional designers for a number of other purposes.

Learner Personas

Defining the correct audience is essential to effective instructional design. Personas, often used in the user experience or marketing worlds, are central to the definition process. These fictional profiles represent segments of people in your intended audience. To create learner personas, you first need to collect and analyze information about a specific audience group. What is their typical age range? How comfortable are they with technology? What do they do at work and at home? 

Once you’ve collected the relevant information, you can use MindMeister to collate profiles in a learner persona map, displaying all of the necessary information about each learner group on the map. This can help your learner team shape their content towards the desired audience. Better still, MindMeister’s export function lets you share your map as a PDF with non-users of the tool.

Find out more about export options in MindMeister.


You can also use MindMeister for some classic note taking and brainstorming. Whether you’re trying to generate interaction ideas, take notes on a complex technical document, or reformat input from your SMEs, digital mind mapping software helps you do this visually and keep everyone engaged. 

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As an instructional designer, and especially as one who favors live collaboration and the action mapping approach, MindMeister has become one of my favorite tools. Whether you’re taking notes, brainstorming ideas, collaborating with SMEs, creating learner personas, designing action maps or planning entire curriculums, collaborative digital mind mapping is sure to support the future of an effective instructional design process.