Using Mind Maps to Develop Your Curriculum

eLearning course curriculum development is the most important step in creating highly informative, engaging courses for a given audience. If you get the curriculum wrong, it’s likely your course, once developed, will not meet its targeted learning objectives. Thankfully, there’s a very useful tool to help eLearning course developers put visual perspective to their curriculum development efforts.  It’s called Mind Maps.


An early example of the use of the mapping technique, to link related concepts, and developing a teaching curriculum from there, is by educationist and researcher Katherine M. Edmondson in 1993[i]. Back then, educators used “concept mapping” as a tool for integrated curriculum development. Experts endorsed its use as:

 “a valuable tool for curriculum development of any scope or discipline…particularly helpful for creating interdisciplinary courses and casebased exercises”

Today, that simple tool has morphed into a highly visual, interactive, and graphic learning content development aid known as Mind Maps. At its simplest, a mind map facilitates brainstorming during curriculum development by helping course designers:

  • Crystalize course objectives;
  • Visualize core content;
  • Organize course activities, such as quizzes, tests, assignments, and group engagement; and
  • Review and refine the curriculum throughout the course design and development process

By providing a visual framework (including interactivity – when using specialized apps and software), mind maps not only bring efficiency to curriculum design but also facilitate the productive development of the course.


By the end of your mapping session, don’t expect to have a fully-functional curriculum, ready to teach to your learners. That’s not the objective of mind mapping. Instead, mapping provides a visual expression of the major elements of the curriculum. It does so by initially documenting everything the team knows about the topic that the curriculum will cover.

The map’s various branches then highlight major topics that comprise the details for the curriculums’ main topic. Each branch then fleshes-out related concepts that add additional detail and depth to the curriculum. By progressively de-constructing the curriculum, course developers then produce sub-branches representing associated concepts and ideas and connect them to one or more linked ideas (branches) on the map.

This results in defining the broad scope of the curriculum, and sequencing the flow of topics and sub-topics, and itemizing individual ideas that each sub-topic explores. Additionally, depending on how course designers organize the map, it may also provide linkages to supporting resources, such as videos, slides, audio files, and other course resources (exercises, assessments, case studies, etc.).


Mind Mapping is much like producing a novel. The author starts with a rough idea for a story. He/she then builds a plot, which evolves into an outline (or several iterations of them!), which then morphs into the final novel.

Here’s how course designers may use mind maps for curriculum development:

Step 1: Brainstorm

The process of developing a curriculum mind map always starts with a brainstorming session. Typically, this session might yield ideas for a course title, the aims and objectives for creating it, expected course outcomes, topics and lessons covered, learning materials required, and course sequencing and schedules, amongst a list of other ideas.

Golden Rule#1: Everyone contributes. No idea is bad.

Capture the brain dump on a whiteboard using simple lists, or itemize them with the help of sticky notes – the choice is entirely yours. The objective here is to focus less on presentation, and primarily on content – more specifically on thoughts, ideas, suggestions, and recommendations about the curriculum.

Step 2: Organize

When doing a brainstorm (brain dump), the ideas don’t necessarily flow in a logical sequence or as a related block of thoughts. They are typically random. As with any traditional curriculum building process (such as using a word processor or slides), the next step is to map the ideas into logical blocks.

Golden Rule #2: Don’t assume you’ve organized it all after the first iteration. Be prepared to re-organize, re-group and re-arrange topics, subjects, concepts, resources, and schedules multiple times

For instance, as part of the brainstorming process, someone may have suggested “Learning Materials” as an element to support the curriculum. Randomly, throughout the brainstorming process, others might have provided inputs (Tests, Lecture Notes and Slides, Seminars) that might now fit neatly under the “Learning Materials” bucket. Step#2 is where course developers organize those random thoughts into related ideas and concepts to flesh-out the curriculum.

Step 3: Map

Here’s where you present your organized brainstorming outputs into a curriculum mind map.

The process of putting the map together is simple:

  1. You start with the course title at the center of the map (the rectangle block in the diagram above)
  2. Then, for each key aspect of the curriculum (e.g. Rationale & Aims, Course Outcomes, Learning Materials) you create a branch spiraling outwards
  3. Next, create sub-branches for each branch. For e.g., the Course Outcomes branch might have four sub-branches – Knowledge and Understanding, Cognitive Skills, Practical/Professional Skills, Transferable Skills)
  4. For each sub-branch, you could have subsequent branches mapping individual elements of that sub-branch. For instance, you might list all the Practical/Professional Skills that the curriculum intends to address (build) throughout the course

Golden Rule #3: Typically, your curriculum map should not be more than five-levels deep. Anything more than that, and course developers might find it overly complex to use

Golden Rule #4: It is best practice to color code your branches to provide maximum visual cues for anyone using the map to develop the course. For instance, everything related to Learning Materials can be dark green, while all Course Outcome-related branches/sub-branches could be lime-green.

Golden Rule #5: Same as Golden Rule#2! Mind Mapping the curriculum is an iterative process. It may result in additional branches created, or existing ones removed or merged into others on the map. Be prepared to revise the map several times.


At its simplest, curriculum development, using mind mapping, is the process of moving from primary topics to sub-topics, and then to micro-topics related to each sub-topic. The resulting output is a well laid-out graphical rendition of the entire course. There are some great software tools available to help eLearning course developers produce curriculum mind maps. These include:





Using interactive tools makes it easier to revise, edit, and fine-tuning the curriculum. It also helps to collaborate with other team members and subject matter experts during the curriculum development phase.

A final word on using mind maps to develop curriculums: The more time you spend consulting with your team, prior to assembling the map, and building your brain dump, the better the resulting curriculum. If you organize (Step#2) your brainstorming (Step#1) ides well, that simplifies the process of mapping (Step#3) each component of the curriculum into the graphical format represented in the figure above.

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