I’ve heard that people can identify with either visual, auditory or tactile methods of learning, or some combination of the three. This is called Fleming’s VARK model of learning. The concept is pretty simple. Visual learners learn best with visual aids, like diagrams, pictures and books. Auditory learnings learn best when they’re listening to things like lectures and discussions. Tactile learners learn best when they’re doing things, like experiments and demonstrations. Most people will probably use a combination, but show a preference for one method more than the others.
I know from experience that I’m a very visual learner, so I love drawing diagrams and writing very structured documents to visualise information. Tactile learning works well for me too, but I usually struggle with audio information. So mind maps are a really useful tool for me. I can create mind maps very rapidly because each node already has the context of the previous node.
When I’m using mind maps for requirements analysis, I’ll make initial nodes for each main component, then break each component down into smaller feature nodes. I’ll add nodes for any questions or test cases that I think of along the way. I used to make the questions and test cases a different colour, but I found that it was a waste of time because I’m really just capturing raw data, which forms the basis of my questions and test cases. Once I’ve written test cases, I don’t really look at the map again.
I think this is because mapping isn’t so much an information capturing exercise as it is a learning exercise. Visualising requirements helps me to form a more complete mental model of the system under test, which helps me to work out scenarios based on this understanding.
I tried to use mind maps for mapping out functional areas of a system, but it didn’t work because mind maps only allow a tree hierarchy so they can’t show an adequate level of interconnectedness between functional areas.
I think that at their best, mind maps will be a visual representation of the author’s own thought process. For this reason, they may not be useful to anyone other than the author (especially non-visual learners). This has been my experience, but perhaps others are finding it useful in collaboration if they are using them in a different way.