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I Tested 5 Mind Mapping Tools And Failed Miserably

I am awesome at finding the right technology for my classroom. Finding a good mind mapping tool for teachers was an epic failure.

I have tried the big names like Mindomo and MindMeister. I wanted a way to quickly create a workflow chart for the online graduate course I am taking on designing online courses. Mind blown. The structure for building online courses is kept rigid for fast turnaround. Build a template, rise, and repeat. I used Google Draw to make my first workflow map. I wanted a faster way to build the course workflow charts. I spent a couple of hours just testing out different tools to see which would be the fastest, most feature filled, for free.

I Tested 5 Mind Mapping Tools And Failed Miserably

What I Wanted To Find In A Mind Mapping Tool For Teachers

— 100% Web-based.
— Free
— Can customize the boxes/nodes but would essentially look like a tree outline.

Let’s be honest, you don’t need a mind mapping tool for teachers to mind map. Paper-and-pencil will do. But the right tool can make the process, cleaner, faster, and make the end product look really nice. Here is what I found.

5 Mind Mapping Tools for Teachers

Coggle

Works on: Web, Chrome
Coggle is a clean looking mind mapping tool found right on the web. It works really well.

What Does It Do Well?

It is great looking, works right in Chrome, and users can download, share, or collaborate. Users have to pay for the mind maps to be private. Free user maps are public. Coggle is completely open about their policy. The entire time I used Coggle, there was a thin banner at the top saying “This is an Open Coggle – It might appear in the Coggle Gallery. Get Awesome to make it private.” I never felt the real compulsion to buy the premium other than for privacy.

Free accounts still get cool features like collaboration, version tracking to undo changes, the ability to download mind maps to PDF, text, or PNG. For real nerds, it also has the ability to write in Markdown which is a really simple and really useful way to edit text.

Coggle Example

What It Lacks?

As far as mind mapping tools for teachers go, the price of Coggle Premium/Awesome felt a bit steep. For $50 a year, users get the following features: private diagrams, auto-arranging branches, shared folders, a presentation mode, high-resolution image uploads, and additional colors. It all felt a bit steep for a high price. The overall ability to create the maps in preconfigured patterns was also lacking. It was basically one large free-flowing mind map. If you were looking to drop $50 on a mind mapping tool, hands-down, go buy Lucidcharts.

Lucidchart Example

I feel the color options were really useful for the free version. If I was to buy the premium, it would be for the privacy of my mind maps rather than for the other additional features. So for you, it basically comes down to the question: how private do you need your ideas to be?

Text 2 Mindmap

Works On: Web

What Does It Do Well?

One of the best ones I have worked with and a personal favorite. The reason is primarily is that outline is SUPER easy. You type what you want in the text box on the left. Tab when you want something to appear under the text above. So all the way to the left of the box will be your main titles, then under those we shall see the subheadings. I tried and was able to indent to 5 or 6 levels. This is really helpful if you are looking to be really particular. You can edit colors of levels and freely arrange the objects all around the map. Downloading as an image is easy and free as well.

Text2Mindmap Example

What It Lacks?

It did lack some of the other flashy features that other tools lack. Is simple all that bad? Also, there is a premium version for $5 a month. For the cheapest premium, users can save up to 12 maps and can export without ads. Really, a user could easily get by on the free for one time map creation. The real downside for me was the way the maps were arranged. I need to make a concept map and the lines here were arranged as a spoke-and-hub configuration. But I need more of a linear workflow tool. The search continues.

Visual Understanding Environment

Works On: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux

The Visual Understanding Environment is a free, open-source tool published by Tufts University. It is being continuously updated and it actually runs on a single computer. I know, I know I said I wanted something web based. But time after time, I tried tools both free and paid and am still looking for a great concept mapper.

What Does It Do Well?

Visualize Data. This thing is a powerhouse. If you have data to enter you can do some pretty crazy stuff with this tool. Everything from seeing connections between data and projects, to tagging “nodes” and connecting them using meta data. I know… super nerdy things. The short of it, is that while great at producing wonderful visual maps. There were some downsides.

Visual Understanding Environment Example

What It Lacks?

This thing is ugly. I mean it is bare bones architecture. It reminds me of the old Soviet apartment complexes of Eastern Europe — cold, stark, functional, lasting forever. There isn’t even a proper tutorial when you first load it up. It presents a bunch of icons that the user is left with a blank canvas. The true downside was its strength, it was simply too much of a tool for what I needed it for. In addition, it didn’t have, or I couldn’t find how to, make a linear project concept map.

XMind

Works on: Mac OS X, Windows

XMind is another offline free mind mapping tool. I know, another offline tool. I am running out of options here so offline it is. In reality, XMind is a wonderful and free tool to use. In fact, it was the most feature robust tool I came across that was free.

What Does It Do Well?

Overall, I found the interface really easy to navigate and to use. It was a nice tool to use if you had a clear mind map you wanted to use and you were didn’t need the web to access your mind maps on the go.

XMind Example

What It Lacks?

There were a few things that other tools had. Primarily it lacked the ability to export to Google Drive, collaborate, or work on the web. It did, oddly enough, have the ability to export to Evernote. It was the only one I came across that could export to Evernote. Strange, but cool! Other than that, it was really a good tool. Not what I was looking for but really good at what it did.

At this point in time in the comparison, I had all but lost hope that I could find an easy tool that I could use. So I went back to where I started.

Google Draw

Works With: Web, Chrome

Google Draw is a little used tool in the already awesome suite of tools for Google Apps. You can get to it from your Google Drive and Google Draw lets you build some really customized mind maps.

What Does It Do Well?

Google. Enough said. Really though, Google Draw is a good tool for sketching out basic mind maps and ideas. There are no preset mind maps so the drawing board is yours. It will do things like connect node boxes for you with different connecting lines. You can type in the nodes and customize them a bit with color and line size. Different shapes and images can also be included.

What It Lacks?

Ok, here is where it gets really disappointing. I decided that after spending hours testing out different tools, to end where I started. I created the first mind map with Google Draw and here I am again using it. What the real limitation and disappointment for Google Drive and mind mapping it that it is a blank canvas. You can do what you want with it. So out of all the mind mapping tools for teachers, this is a pretty big downside. There is no fast way to create a mind map. You could create a template that you could duplicate and use again but it is a little rough starting from scratch. There is no handholding either. When you get to the canvas, you are on your own.

Why I Ended Where I Started.

I started with Google Draw and I ended my quest with Google Draw. Part of my problem was that I was looking for the wrong tool. I was looking for mind mapping tools when I should have looked for workflow mapping tools. Mind mapping and workflow mapping sound like similar tools but they target different functions. Mind mapping tools help users organize creative thoughts. A workflow tool specializes in mapping a system that already exists.

A lot of tools do the same thing but I was specifically looking for one that mapped systems. I did find a workflow mapping tool; Lucidcharts. Lucidcharts is a fantastic tool that users can use to build mind maps and workflow charts. I only wanted to build systems charts. And for that reason, I didn’t need all the features that Lucidcharts offers. So I went with the free tool in a toolbox I already use; Google Draw. I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t find a new tool to help me create course workflow maps faster. Ultimately, I think practice, opposed to a new tool, will help me in creating the course outlines faster.

Question: What mind mapping tool do you use? What do you recommend and why do you like it?

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