visual-models-flow

Visual Models In-Depth

We are used to visual representations. A visual model is a schema (or mental framework) made explicit. When used well, they allow us to more quickly and more deeply understand complex information. An everyday example would be the use of maps or assembly instructions that are images rather than words. While most professors were successful learning primarily through the written or spoken word, many students would benefit from additional instructional scaffolding (or careful structuring) that allows them to more easily see key concepts and their relationships (if any) to one another.

Using this page: This is a very long web page. If you want to efficiently go to different sections then please use the green ToC (or Table of Contents) button that is on the far left of your screen. You'll see a complete outline of this article. Click on any section to be scrolled immediately to that part of the page.

Images: Click on any image on this webpage to see a larger, easier-to-read, version.

What's the Big Idea?

Students typically have incomplete, fragmented knowledge about any discipline. In contrast, experts have made rich connections between various pieces of knowledge. Novices (i.e. think students) may have some of the same bits and pieces but lack a rich, conceptual network that allows them to retain and easily access connections amongst and between concepts.

Helping students develop a solid conceptual understanding, rather than remembering seemingly disconnected factoids, is difficult. Bains (2004), author of What the Best College Teachers Do, wrote about the key defining attribute of great teachers:

… [great teachers] have used their knowledge to develop techniques for grasping fundamental principles and organizing concepts that others can use to begin building their own understanding and abilities. They know how to simplify and clarify complex subjects, to cut to the heart of the matter with provocative insights …. (p.16)

Ambrose et al. (2010), authors of How Learning Works, devote a chapter to how students organize knowledge and the subsequent impact of that organization (or lack thereof) on their learning. Specifically, the authors focus on the rich and varied connections experts make between concepts, facts, and skills. They write:

These more complex and highly connected knowledge structures allow experts to access and use their knowledge more efficiently and effectively. Indeed, research has shown that experts tend to automatically process information in coherent chunks based on their prior knowledge and then use these chunks to build larger, more interconnected knowledge structures. (p.51)

What are some of the best ways to organize concepts so students can more effectively and efficiently build their own understanding? One powerful, research-supported, approach is the use of visual models. Ambrose et al. make eleven research-based recommendations for helping students develop richer knowledge structures. Seven of their recommendations "fit" with the use of visual models, and five of the recommendations are best addressed via visual models:

  1. Create a concept map to analyze how you organize your own knowledge.
  2. Provide students with the organizational structure of the course.
  3. Make connections among concepts explicit.
  4. Encourage students to work with multiple organizing structures.
  5. Ask students to draw a concept map or expose their knowledge organizations.

Put simply, visual models are a powerful tool for helping students identify the connections between and among concepts. The result is a better understanding of difficult material.

Next Chapter: What the Evidence Says

What the Evidence Says

Visual models have been explored in a number of research studies and this research indicates that they have a strong, positive impact on student learning. Most noteworthy is Nesbit & Adesope's meta-analysis (2006). Across 55 studies involving 5,818 participants, they found a mean effect size of 0.60 favoring visual models over comparison groups. Looking at the postsecondary results only, the mean effect size was 0.77, a result that could be described as a "large" difference for visual model groups over various comparison groups.

More recently Dexter, Park, & Hughes (2011) conducted a meta-analysis comparing the use of graphic organizer instruction compared to text only. The twist in their analysis was they looked only at studies using students with learning disabilities. They found the mean effect size was 1.05 favoring the graphic organizer group. This was a large and impressive finding indicating that visual models may be even more powerful for struggling students.

A very recent study, (Martínez, Pérez, Suero, & Pardo; 2013) explored the use of concept maps for teaching two physics concepts (optical fibers and fundamental particles of matter). They found the concept map group scored 21.77% and 19.54% higher than the text-based control groups.

Butcher (2006) found that the level of detail in a diagram made a big difference. She had students learn about the heart and circulatory system. She compared three groups: text only, text with simplified diagrams, and text with detailed diagrams. Butcher found that both diagram groups did better relative to text-only, more importantly, that the simplified diagram group was better at information integration compared to the detailed diagrams group.

Ainsworth & Loizou (2003) conducted a study that looked at the impact of diagrams for understanding the heart circulatory system. They found, like many others, that the diagram group did much better than the text group. What was especially interesting is that they prompted some students to self-explain while they were learning. The subjects in both the diagram plus self-explaining group learned better relative to other groups. In addition, they did so in less time.

A number of other studies have looked at specific comparisons of interest to educators. For example Robinson & Kiewra (1995) found that visual models were superior to outlines. This was an important finding as educators can tend to identify traditional outlines as being forms of visual models.

One current area of controversy is whether to use instructor-created visual models or learner-created visuals. Stull & Mayer (2007) compared author-provided versus learner-generated visual models when students were learning a topic considered to be an intermediate difficulty-level. They found students with author-provided visuals learned more and took less time compared to the learner-generated group. On the other hand, Schwamborn, Mayer, Leopold, & Leutner (2010) found that students who generated drawings outperformed the text-only group an a measure of transfer with an effect size of 0.91. Thus currently we have reason to believe learner-generated diagrams can be an effective learning tool, but we are not sure when they may be more beneficial than instructor-created visuals.

In Practice

In this section I share a few models that I've used in my own classes, each for a slightly different purpose. In turn, I hope this provides a sense of the variety of ways visual models can be used productively.

You can download all the example visual models as high-quality PDFs below. Each visual model presented on this page can be clicked and it will pop-up in a larger, better quality lightbox frame.

Examples download

Statistical Roadmap

This visual model was created to help students navigate a semester-long introductory course in statistics. In this course, several students have math anxiety and others are simply overwhelmed by the amount of content. The overarching purpose of this model is to communicate that statistics explores key concepts, that there are natural and important connections between concepts, and that the whole course can be conceptualized on one piece of paper with plenty of white space.

The model is introduced on the first day of class but frankly it's not terribly effective at that point. However, as we progress throughout the semester, the model is revisited at each class meeting. About halfway through the semester students trust and appreciate that this model is accurate and helpful, not just a ruse by the instructor. In short, it takes time for students to "buy in" to the model (there are "trust" issues with statistics based on students' former experiences).

You'll notice that the model uses color coding: that's intentional but beyond the scope of this webpage to describe. Another statistics instructor might create a different sort of map that would be more useful for his/her students. The major idea is that creating a visual model serves as a course long roadmap can be very helpful for students.

statistics roadmap

Formula Roadmap

This visual model is the complement to the Statistics Roadmap (above). For a subject like statistics most students think in terms of formulas rather than concepts. The intent of this visual model is two-fold:

  1. to emphasize the connection between concepts and formulas
  2. to display there's not an overwhelming number of formulas to learn in the class

In the case of this particular course, the formulas on this model cover about 85% of the formulas they'll be using. As with the previous model it's important to have white space. And, also like the previous model, students typically don't "trust" this model until they see how content unfolds in the first few class meetings of the semester. Being able to flip between the conceptual model and the formulaic one is a great help in solidifying student understanding. Of course, this kind of double-sided visual model is not needed in many content areas but it is extremely helpful in others.

formula roadmap

Calculating Standard Deviation

This is a more specialized example: it focuses on the formula for standard deviation. This model doesn't provide a model as much as it provides a visual script for how to conduct the calculation steps.

The color coding is critical here. Green steps involve calculations with everyone in the sample (e.g. finding the deviation score for each individual). Blue steps involve calculations with summative calculations (e.g. finding the mean based on the "sum" and the "count" for the entire sample). Beginners are sometimes confused regarding the timing of operations for each individual versus an already calculated summative quantity.

SD formula

Human Cognitive Architecture

This model is used to preview the topic of cognitive load. It summarizes the key new ideas students will be learning: cognitive load of learning tasks, working memory, and long term memory. The model accompanies an audio presentation. This model is much simpler than models used over an entire semester, but the purpose is also much simpler: to help students understand some of the key material for one class meeting.

human cognitive architecture

The Gold Standard

In the research literature the visual model that is used most often is a model to show blood flow through the heart. Understanding generic blood flow is not that hard for students, but understanding the consequences when problems crop up (e.g. congestive heart failure) is difficult.

I created the visual model below, but it's essentially the same as many other models used in research studies. One key factor is that the model doesn't look like the actual heart, but research has indicated that more abstract, conceptually accurate, models are more powerful learning tools that visually accurate, but conceptually confusing, visuals.

While the model looks simple, it packs a lot of conceptual punch. To get a deeper understanding of this model, and why it's important, listen to the 15 minute interview with Susan Prion below the model.

congestive heart failure

Getting Started

While it can seem overwhelming to get started, I'd suggest a modest plan for starting to use visual modeling:

  • Create a course map
  • Identify the 3 most confusing/difficult topics in a course
  • Create a visual model for each topic

This means you'd focus on creating only 4 models within one semester. After the semester, and based on your observations plus student feedback, you can revise the original models and add to your collection of models as needed for the next version of the course.

This means instead of trying to create visual models for every topic, at first you can focus on those issues that you already know are most difficult or confusing for your students. [^If you've never taught the course before then this first step is hard. You might want to talk to colleagues about their experiences: they should be able to help you identify the really confusing material for students.]

It's helpful to have good tools to create visual models. A number of software programs to aid you are suggested in the References section. My short list of essentials are:

  • draw and scan
  • OmniGraffle (Mac)
  • iThoughts (Mac and iPad)
  • MindNode Pro (Mac and iPad)

It's easy to dismiss visual models drawn freehand, but scanned freehand drawings can be an effective way to get started. You'll need a scanner, but virtually all the photocopiers at USF have scanning capability. Getting started with visual models is the important thing, finding software to create them is secondary. And consider your first attempts as very good drafts anyway. Using this approach, you'd develop four hand-drawn models the first semester, then more models (if needed) plus the old ones upgraded via software in your second semester of using visual models.

References

Below you'll find a selection of research articles and books so you can easily explore the topic of visual models to greater depth. All references provided in APA (American Psychological Association) format. There are two subsections: research articles/books and how-to-do-it references.

Research Articles

  • Adesope, O. O., & Nesbit, J. C. (2013). Learning with animated and static concept maps. Learning and Instruction, 27, 1-10.
  • Ainsworth, S., & Loizou, A. T. (2003). The effects of self-explaining when learning with text or diagrams. Cognitive Science, 27(4), 669–681.
  • Ambrose, S.; Bridges, M.; DiPietro, M.; Lovett, M.; and Norman, M. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. San Francisco, CA US: Jossey-Bass.
  • Butcher, K. R. (2006). Learning from text with diagrams: Promoting mental model development and inference generation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98(1), 182–197.
  • Dexter, D. D., Park, Y. J., & Hughes, C. A. (2011). A meta‐analytic review of graphic organizers and science instruction for adolescents with learning disabilities: Implications for the intermediate and secondary science classroom. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 26(4), 204-213. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5826.2011.00341.x
  • Hilbert, T. S., & Renkl, A. (2008). Concept mapping as a follow-up strategy to learning from texts: What characterizes good and poor mappers?. Instructional Science, 36(1), 53-73. doi:10.1007/s11251-007-9022-9
  • Martínez, G., Pérez, Á., Suero, M., & Pardo, P. J. (2013). The effectiveness of concept maps in teaching physics concepts applied to engineering education: Experimental comparison of the amount of learning achieved with and without concept maps. Journal Of Science Education And Technology, 22(2), 204-214. doi:10.1007/s10956-012-9386-8
  • McCrudden, M. T., Schraw, G., Lehman, S., & Poliquin, A. (2007). The effect of causal diagrams on text learning. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 32(3), 367-388. doi:10.1016/j.cedpsych.2005.11.002
  • Nesbit, J., & Adesope, O. O. (2006). Learning with concept and knowledge maps: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 76(3), 413–448.
  • Novak, J. (1998). Learning, creating, and using knowledge: Concept maps as facilitative tools in schools and corporations. Mahwah, NJ US: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Robinson, D., & Kiewra, K. A. (1995). Visual argument: Graphic organizers are superior to outlines in improving learning from text. Journal of Educational Psychology, 87(3), 455–467.
  • Schwamborn, A., Mayer, R. E., Thillmann, H., Leopold, C., & Leutner, D. (2010). Drawing as a generative activity and drawing as a prognostic activity. Journal Of Educational Psychology, 102(4), 872-879. doi:10.1037/a0019640
  • Shah, P., & Miyake, A. (2005). The Cambridge Handbook of Visuospatial Thinking. New York, NY US: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511610448
  • Stull, A. T., & Mayer, R. E. (2007). Learning by doing versus learning by viewing: Three experimental comparisons of learner-generated versus author-provided graphic organizers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(4), 808–820.
  • Van Meter, P., & Garner, J. (2005). The promise and practice of learner-generated drawing: Literature review and synthesis. Educational Psychology Review, 17(4), 285-325. doi:10.1007/s10648-005-8136-3

How-To-Do-It References

  • Craig, M. (2000). Thinking visually: Business applications of 14 core diagrams. London, UK: Thompson Learning.
  • Lidwell, W.; Holden, K.; and Butler, J. (2003). Universal principles of design: 100 ways to enhance usability, influence perception, increase appeal, make better design decisions, and teach through design. Gloucester, MA US: Rockport Publishers.
  • Roam, D. (2008). The back of the napkin: Solving problems and selling ideas with pictures. New York, NY US: Penguin Group.
  • Sibbet, D. (2010). Visual meetings: How graphics, sticky notes and idea mapping can transform group productivity. Hoboken, NJ US: John Wiley & Sons.

Suggested Tools

A small number of visual modeling products are suggested below: these applications are Mac and iPad heavy. However, I've also provided a list of alternative products which includes options on Windows computers.

OmniGraffle

OmniGraffle is, by far, the most powerful and flexible visual modeling software program available on the Mac. It comes in regular and pro versions. Academic pricing is $59.99 and $119.99 respectively. The downside of any powerful and flexible application is the learning curve involved. For OmniGraffle the learning curve is relatively modest compared to Photoshop or InDesign. The closest option on Windows is the highly touted Microsoft Visio.

I created a set of tutorials to help folks get started with OmniGraffle. Currently this includes 7 different tutorials covering key basic skills. The tutorials last a total of over 80 minutes.

iThoughts

iThoughts comes in two flavors: iThoughtsHD for the iPad and iThoughtsX for the Mac. Both are relatively new products, but the developer has done an outstanding job. The iPad version is currently at a more advanced stage relative to the newer Mac version. iThoughts offers more options and styles relative to MindNode Pro. As such it sits somewhere between MindNode Pro and OmniGraffle in terms of power and flexibility.

The outstanding feature of the iPad version is dictation mode. This is fantastic for quickly developing an initial set of nodes (or concept boxes). Dictation mode hopefully will make its way to the Mac-version, but probably not before 2015.

iThoughtsX for Macintosh is quickly becoming my go-to product for basic mindmaps. The Mac version also offers fantastic export options: this means you can easily transfer your work into formats that allow you to expand or refine your ideas in a word processor, Markdown editor, outliner (such as Tree), or other drawing program. You can download a free 14-day trial version. iThoughtsX is $60, but if you email the developer directly I believe he'll give you a $30 academic pricing option if you're a student/teacher.

Currently one tutorial is provided that was created by the developer.

MindNode Pro

MindNode Pro is a great lightweight, quick program for creating flexible mindmaps. It's also great for editing as it works akin to an electronic version of moving around Post-Its on a whiteboard.

MindNode Pro plays well with others by exporting and importing OPML files. At $19.99 the app is a steal, but if you are unsure you can download the less powerful MindNode Lite from the App Store. Visit the MindNode website for additional details. MindNode Pro also comes in an iOS version for iPads and iPhones.

I created a set of tutorials to help folks get started with MindNode Pro. Currently this includes 3 different tutorials covering key basic skills.

Doodling & Graphic Notetaking

Graphic notetaking and/or doodling is fast becoming an accepted an powerful way to convey information. Typically these approaches do not involve software per se (though some graphic notetakers do use an iPad to do their work).

Below is a short 6-minute TED presentation by Sunni Brown on why doodling matters. She is author of the recently published: The Doodle Revolution.

For more details you may want to explore the page dedicated to Graphic Notetaking and doodling:

Additional Tools Worth Exploring

Below are additional tools that people may find helpful. With most products you can download trial versions. In addition to the list below, there are a wide variety of other tools available: some of which you may find more useful for your own needs. I offer this list as a starter kit for considering options.

  • MS Visio: Windows-only, also comes in standard and pro versions. Several places offer academic pricing options around $130 (sometimes only for 2010 version).
  • SimpleMind: comes in Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android versions. About $30. One great feature is this app works on every operating system. Some features are somewhat tricky to access.
  • XMind: comes in both Mac and Windows versions. Priced at $29 for Plus, $49 for Pro versions via academic pricing at website. I'm less familiar with this product. Seems to be first developed for Windows. Potentially some very nice features.
  • Tree outliner: Mac-only, $14.99. I love this horizontal outliner with tabs. Using the magic of OPML it's very easy to go from Tree to a mindmapping program (that reads OPML).
  • Cmap: Mac and Windows, free. Some people love this app. I've always found it slow, clunky, and inflexible. But it may be a good fit for you. It uses the original and strict definition for "concept maps" (specifically all links need to use "connecting text labels"). Has not been updated since November 2012.
  • Keynote: Mac-only, $19.99. Apple's alternative to PowerPoint. More graphics friendly. Decent drawing tools.
  • Shapes: Mac-only, $4.99. Very simple, inexpensive, but potentially useful software. It is geared towards drawing in general, but does provide good support for creating visual models. Worth a look.

Tutorials Overview

This section provides some specific software-based tools. Typically we'll offer at least two video tutorials for each tool listed. The tools listed in this section are not the only recommended tools, but are the ones we've used the most and had the time to create tutorials for.

There are dedicated tutorials for these software programs:

Lucidchart

Web-based illustration program. Imports both OmniGraffle and Visio documents. It will let you export Visio, but not OmniGraffle format (this will likely change in the next 12 months). Seems very powerful with nice options such as exporting as PDFs or providing embed codes to use in websites (or Canvas). Worth checking out. Perhaps most importantly LucidCharts offers collaborative visual model creation! This could be the killer feature for some.

OmniGraffle

Extremely flexible and powerful general purpose visual modeling creation software. Mac-only. Being the most "powerful" also means it has a steeper learning curve. Currently 7 tutorials are provided for over an hour of instruction.

Visio

Extremely flexible and powerful general purpose visual modeling creation software (like OmniGraffle). Windows only.

MindNode

Simple but flexible concept map software for the Mac, iOS (iPad and iPhone). Three tutorials are provided.

iThoughts

More powerful and flexible than MindNode. Great up-and-coming software option for Mac and iOS (iPad and iPhone). Currently only 1 tutorial is provided, with more coming in the upcoming academic year.

Lucidchart Tutorials

Lucidchart is well worth checking out. They offer a free account (with limitations), paid accounts, but most importantly they offer free educational accounts. Check out this webpage: Lucidchart for professors.

You'll need to sign up for a regular free Lucidchart account first: and make sure to use your educational email address. This can be a great service for many.

Basic Overview

This web-based illustration app imports both OmniGraffle and Visio documents. It will let you export Visio, but not OmniGraffle format (this will likely change in the next 12 months). Seems very powerful with nice options such as exporting as PDFs or providing embed codes to use in websites (or Canvas). Perhaps most importantly LucidCharts offers collaborative visual model creation! This could be the killer feature for some.

Playing Nice with OmniGraffle and Visio

The two standard software apps for visual modeling are Omnigraffle (Macs) and Visio (Windows). A key feature is that Lucidchart will import Omnigraffle and Visio documents and auto-magically turn them into LucidChart documents. This is fantastic for a bunch of reasons. The OmniGraffle import functionality is in beta-testing. It works pretty-well, but not perfectly. Check out:

Lucidchart: Diagrams Done Right

This is a short 1 minute introduction to Lucidchart.

Lucidchart: Complete Tutorial

This is a long 25 minute tutorial about using Lucidchart. Very complete and helpful if you use this web-based app.

OmniGraffle Tutorials

A collection of sample documents plus seven tutorials are provided below. Four of the tutorials cover various aspects of OmniGraffle basics. The other tutorials address more advanced topics.

OmniGraffle Example Documents

Below is a download link to a variety of OmniGraffle documents. You can use these as starters, or deconstruct them to see how they were made, or tweak in any way you want. Please keep in mind that these files can only be opened with OmniGraffle. You can download a trial version here: OmniGraffle trial download. (Note: trial download near top. Click on "download/buy" gray bar.)

OmniGraffle Basics: Part 1

This 8 minute video shows the basics of OmniGraffle. This portion of the short course covers: introduction, document setup, and diagram auto-layout. First download the example Graffle document (good for reference), then watch the videos.

OmniGraffle Basics: Part 2

This 8.5 minute video continues the short course in OmniGraffle Basics. It covers: outline mode, default shapes, tweaking details, and revisiting auto-layout.

OmniGraffle Basics: Part 3

This 5.5 minute video continues the short course in OmniGraffle Basics. It covers: creating link labels. While it may not seem intuitive, there's a lot to cover on this one issue.

OmniGraffle Basics: Part 4

The final video in the basic course sequence is 5.5 minute long and finishes the short course in OmniGraffle Basics. It covers: refining connections, exporting, and a summary.

OmniGraffle Templates

This 13 minute video shows how to use templates to increase the ease and efficiency of using OmniGraffle. And templates are easy to create and use. Watch the video. If you want to download the example template then use the download below. (This special file only works with OmniGraffle and can not be opened by other applications.)

OmniGraffle Alignment

This 10 minute video shows how to use optimally use the alignment features. The tutorial also covers how to use grouping and ungrouping to refine alignment so everything looks spiffy.

OmniGraffle Dynamic Models

This 10 minute video shows how to create a sequence of images that can be incorporated into Keynote, PowerPoint, or video creation software to create a dynamic visual model (that is presumably accompanied by an audio track).

Visio Tutorials

Visio is the standard for creating visual models on Windows OS. I have been hesitant to recommend it as it comes with a very high price tag. Recently I've learned that it is absolutely free to USF faculty! Wow. Here's how to grad your free copy:

  1. Log into USF Connect.
  2. Click on the Faculty/Advisor top tab.
  3. Look at QuickLinks (far left) and click on DreamSpark.
  4. In the Search field type in "visio".
  5. You'll find a variety of options, but most folks will want Microsoft Visio Professional 2013. It provides 3 download options: choose whatever is best for you.

I have not tested this free download as I work on a Mac, but if you're a Windows user it's well worth exploring this free program. However Visio is not easy to learn: it takes some practice. It's possible you find web-based Lucidchart a better option for novices.

I'm posting the best tutorials I could find, but there certainly may be better ones available. If you know of better tutorials then just email me at mitchellm@usfca.edu.

Visio Tutorial 1

This is a 25 minute tutorial. It covers all the essentials of using Visio to create a variety of visual models.

Visio Tutorial 2

This is a 26 minute tutorial. Check out the video for the details of what is covers: this is shown in the first 30 seconds.

Visio Tutorial 3

This is an 11 minute tutorial that focuses on pivot diagrams. Check out the video for the details of what is covers: this is shown in the first 30 seconds.

MindNode Pro Tutorials

MindNode Pro is a great lightweight, quick program for creating very flexible mindmaps. It's also great as an editing tool as it's simple to rearrange key ideas: a bit like an electronic version of moving around Post-its on a whiteboard. MindNode Pro also plays well with others by exporting and importing OPML files (see details about this below). At $19.99 the app is a steal, but if you are unsure you can download the less powerful MindNode Lite from the App Store. Visit the MindNode website for additional details.

MindNode Basics

This 10 minute video shows you all the basics for using MindNode Pro to create mindmaps very efficiently. This visuals can be quite helpful to some. Please keep in mind that MindNode Pro is a Mac-only application, although there are companion versions available for the iPad and iPhone.

MindNode Customization

This 8 minute video shows how to customize MindNode Pro in two key areas: (1) preferences, and (2) toolbar area. It also briefly shows how to create and use cross-links.

MindNode and Transfers

This 6 minute video shows you how to transfer work across outliners and mindmap applications (or at least the vast majority of them). This is done via the uber-geeky magic of OPML (outliner processing markup language). It's also very easy to accomplish and you don't need to be a geek. Check out the video for details.

iThoughts Tutorials

iThoughts comes in two flavors: iThoughtsHD for the iPad and iThoughtsX for the Mac. Both are relatively new products, but the developer has done an outstanding job. The iPad version is currently at a more advanced development stage relative to the newer Mac version. iThoughts offers more options and styles relative to MindNode Pro. As such it sits somewhere between MindNode Pro and OmniGraffle in terms of power and flexibility.

The outstanding feature of the iPad version is dictation mode. This is fantastic for quickly developing an initial set of nodes (or concept boxes). Dictation mode hopefully will make its way to the Mac-version, but probably not before 2015.

A very useful feature for both versions is the ability to add notes to any node in a drawing. For some this may be trivial, but for others this can be a truly handy way to develop more complex visual models with detailed text descriptions nicely hidden from view, but still easily accessible.

The iThoughtsHD for iPad website provides great example documents. A very well done 7 minute overview of the product is given in the video below. In addition the develop provides a comprehensive how-to page that's worth exploring.

The iThoughtX for Macintosh website is not as in-depth as for the iPad product, but it does give you access to a free 14-day trial version of the software. This product is $60, but if you email the developer directly I believe he'll still give you a $30 academic pricing option.

Graphic Notetaking

Becky Chung, in a web post at the TED website stated that:

Graphic notetaking is the doodle, evolved and tamed.

It's a very helpful definition as the looser term of doodling is often used, but graphic notetaking is slowly becoming the more prevalent term. More recently the term sketchnoting is also used.

Derek Bruff on Sketchnotes

Derek Bruff is director of the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching and a senior lecturer in the Vanderbilt Department of Mathematics. In July 2014 he wrote a blog post titled:Why Use Sketchnotes in the Classroom?. It's a very worthwhile read. But for those of you auditorily-inclined, below you'll find a September 2014 interview done with Derek for the Verbal to Visual podcast series. The purpose of these links + audio is to provide some of the pedagogical reasons for considering sketchnotes in the classroom.

Sunni Brown on Doodling

A class short presentation at TED by Sunni on why doodling matters. She has also written a recently published book titled The Doodle Revolution.

Rachel Smith on Drawing in Class

This is all about the ideas and practices behind graphical notetaking.

Tree Outliner

Normally I would not include an outliner, but Tree is unique in being a horizontal outliner. As such it takes advantage of visual spatial relationships to emphasize structure.

Tree Outliner In-Depth

This 25 minute video covers all the key aspects of why using Tree is so fantastic. It covers three killer features that make it unique relative to other outliners, and some concept mapping applications.

Tree to Scrivener

This 6 minute video shows how to transfer your work from Tree to Scrivener (the world's best writing app). This is a great 1-2 punch for planning and writing of all kinds.