RIP Tony Buzan

This isn’t the next blog post I expected (or wanted) to be writing. However, one of my personal heroes has passed away and I wanted to take a little time to share my recollections of this formidable man. I understand that Tony was still actively working. He had moved in to a new home from where he hoped and intended to produce lots of new creative work. Regrettably, that was not to be. A massive heart attack and a fall resulted in complications from which he was never to recover. He passed away on 13th April.


I graduated from college at the age of 22 with a degree in law. I had been schooled in vast amounts of information and material, memorized enough of it, spewed it back in exams and been granted passes. However, it had left me cold about the whole process of learning and with rather mixed feelings on the potential of my own mind/ brain.

Then, in my mid twenties I was introduced to a few important books. These included “Accelerated Learning” by Colin Rose and a couple of the books written by Tony Buzan for the BBC. I was blown away. Suddenly, here were people sharing information with me about how my mind worked, how to make the learning and creativity processes more effective. Whilst I was excited, I was also more than a bit angry. This material had all been in the public domain for over 10 years. It was all as available to every teacher who ever taught me as it was to me. So, why had they denied me this critical learning about how to use my mind most effectively and how to maximise my potential as a learner? I felt like i’d been cheated, but had now opened Pandora’s box and there was no looking back.

That took me on a journey that was all essentially about learning, whether it was becoming a trainer in British Junior Chamber, training to teach English with CELTA, being a University visiting faculty, and then over time towards leading, setting up, turning around and overall trying to change and improve schools as places where others would be as inspired and excited by learning as I am.

So, in many ways, i owe so much to Mr Tony Buzan and it is with some little sadness today that I think I shall never get the opportunity to meet the man. There was a time, around 9-10 years ago when he was due to come to India and it was likely that I was going to get the chance to meet him. however, he got ill and had to cancel the trip, so the opportunity was lost.

I believe he was ultimately responsible for writing (or co-writing) over 80 books. I believe one of the reasons he was able to be so prolific was because of the learning, creation and ideation methodologies that he had developed.

Mind Map

Of all Tony’s work, to me, the stand out will always be mindmapping. However, whilst I saw and experienced the benefits so much, it was often frustrating to say when others treated it as though it was something a bit ‘weird’, a bit out there. I still use it for every speech or presentation, every major piece of writing (including most of the posts on this blog), any times when i need to unleash my creative juices or to formulate ideas. I’ve used them collectively in groups as well as on my own.

I remember an occasion when some teachers did extensive work with students of Classes 6 and 7 to familiarise them with the techniques and benefits of mindmapping. Responses to a short immediate survey were that students found it exciting, interesting and intended to make it a natural and regular part of their study and learning approaches.

However, we then went back to do a further survey with those same students after about 6 months and found that less than 10% were still using mindmapping at all, and even some of them only sporadically. What was most disheartening was that the most significant reasons why students had stopped were associated with the fact that others weren’t doing it. Children were uncomfortable to do it if everyone else wasn’t doing it, or it wasn’t being imposed. There was a “people like us don’t do stuff like that” inertia that meant the students had largely dropped this very promising set of techniques. Worse, what were they doing instead? Spending hours using highlight markers to mark out significant sentences in textbooks – a method scientifically proven to be a very poor and inefficient way to learn. However, people like us do that, so we blindly do it.

I’m not sure whether Tony or his companies around the world conducted research on the stick-ability of their methods and techniques. I suppose it wasn’t really in their interest to do so if the results might have been weak. However, I personally would love to see more work in this area.

At this time as Tony has passed away, my thoughts are with his family, friends and all his colleagues across the world who have lost a leader and inspiring teacher. I hope that the best legacy for Tony Buzan and his work will be a renewed interest and enthusiasm for his ideas and their application to bring about better learning and greater creativity. People will readily jump in with phrases like ‘being a lifelong learner’. We haven’t yet done nearly enough work around what this means and how, most effectively, people should learn most effectively throughout their lives and how to harness that learning creatively. There is much work to be done.

What Did You Learn in School Today?

This is a bad question to ask a child after a day at school, for a multitude of reasons.

Firstly, a day in school is a pretty emotional and draining experience for many children. As a result, by the time the school day gets over the child is mentally frazzled and needs time, space and ideally sleep, to enable them to mentally process al the knowledge and information they’ve taken in.

It’s commonly a frustration to parents that their child seems to remember more about the social aspects of what happened in school, than the academic learning. it may even cause some parents to fear that academically their child isn’t learning very much. He or she can tell you lots about who did what to whom, who said what to a teacher and got away with it, who got punished for what etc. The plain reality is that the social elements and aspects of school are incredibly important to our children. We shouldn’t underestimate how many important skills are being developed through these social interactions – skills that will be vital in adulthood.

Another problem with the question is that the learning experiences of the day are so broad and various that the child is hard pressed to figure out which bits, which elements we the adults might consider most important or want us to share with them. Plainly, the child knows that they’re not expected to give a verbatim report of everything they saw, heard, felt or experienced (and all their judgements and reflections) during the day.

It’s known that a lot of learning isn’t really ‘mine’ until I’ve slept to process it and take full ownership of the memories. This is another reason why such a question can prove challenging.

For many parents, so far, this will all be very unsatisfying. As attentive, keen and diligent parents they want to know that they can show an interest in their child’s learning, ensure their child is maintaining focus and effort and check that their educators are doing their job.

The question becomes – “Well, if that’s not the right question, then what is?”

The following article may contain the germ of an answer.

The British Psychological Society Digest – Could the Way we Talk to Children Help Them Remember Their Science Lessons?

This makes a lot of sense to me. Intuitively, it’s what I often tended to do with my own son when he was younger. It also, as a generalisation, is a line of questioning taken more often by mothers than fathers. I wonder whether the nature of the questions asked, the child’s vocalisation of the answers all serve to provide extra focus for when the child sleeps, enabling better absorption of the learning and greater access for recall later.

Whatever the explanation, I believe this merits more research and in the meantime is a habit worth adopting by parents.

Exercise for Better Learning

Why deny children regular exercise, when the evidence in favour is so powerful?

I would put particular emphasis here on the word ‘regular’. I get very troubled when i see data or evidence in schools that suggests that the amount of physical activity the children are getting is actually dwindling. Even when they do gt physical exercise, all too often for administrative convenience it’s squeezed in to one weekly session, thereby significantly reducing the benefits.

Here’s a nice, short article that sets out in very simple terms what we know about the benefits of regular physical exrcise. Incidentally, this article isn’t even written to refer to children – it’s just as relevant for us adults!

Fast Company – 3 Reasons Exercise Makes You Smarter

It’s ironic that the volume of curriculum is often given as one of the primary reasons for squeezing out time for recess or PE. As the article highlights, our memories actually work better when we get good regular exercise – which should mean we can learn more in shorter time. Also, in schools there’s a very big factor that isn’t touched upon here. When children are getting good exrcise every day they’re calmer and more focused in the classroom – thereby significantly reducing discipline issues and off-task beaviour.

Not only does this make the classroom a more effective place of learning, but it reduces health risks for the children and makes the classroom a ‘nicer’ more empathic place. It’s really time to rethink the role of the physical body in the school.

Learning to Learn Well

If, in education, what we really care about is learning – then why do we spend so little time training, refining, giving feedback on and advancing the skills and techniques of learning? My suspicion has long been that when the early models of education were set up, it was meant to be a filtering system – and a filtering system that has everyone succeeding isn’t at all effective. So, if some accidentally had effective study and learning techniques, they succeeded. And, bad luck for the rest.

Whatever the reasons, they need no longer apply. This was actually one of the issues that motivated me to move in to the education field, based upon my own experiences in school and college when i was trying to figure out how to be an effective learner, largely without assistance. I believe today, we have a duty to share best practices and knowledge about the learning process with every student – ariming them with the skills to make themselves the best learners they can be.

Here’s an interesting, short article from, written for adults, but setting out five practical steps that can be applied by learners of any age; – 5 Super Efficient Ways to Learn More in Less Time

I firmly believe that as students master the skills of learning effectively, they’re more likely to maintain interest and motivation, more likely to want to learn more and more likely to develop the habits that will see them become lifelong learners.

Happy Learning !!!

The Mind – The Final Frontier

Once upon a time, space was called the final frontier, a place full of mysteries, that sparked the curiosity of the greatest minds who sought to gather evidence to understand it better. Today, I believe that honour belongs to the human mind.

New scientific methods over the last 15 or so years have opened up fascinating opportunities to begin to learn more about how the mind works, to test (and sometimes refute) some of the tentative theories that had existed for a long time. This has vast implications for how we live, how we can aspire to be our most productive and effective. It has enormous implications for learning – and therefore for teaching and all aspects of education. But wait, are educators paying attention or do too many somehow see all that as something of merely passing interest? Not so long ago, the Dean of the Stanford School of Education admitted that it took a very long time before the School put in place a formal relationship with the Neurology Department of the School of Medicine.

So, educators, we need to be as aware and informed on the latest brain and mind research as we are on the latest ideas about pedagogy, classroom methodology or subject related knowledge. In fact, we cannot give proper thought to where we go in any of those areas if we don’t take account of brain science.

Here’s an example – a recent article about the brain and the ageing process:

Gulf News – Rewiring the Ageing Brain

As our knowledge in these areas grow it’s going to change many things about how we live our lives, not least (I sincerely hope), how we educate our children.

Brain Science – Impact for Educators

Here’s an interesting video from TedXBoston;

Watching it got me thinking about how the ‘learning industry (what education should be) is going to need to recalibrate and rethink how it does what it does. Of course, those who are more focused on teaching than learning won’t feel the need to take any notice of this stuff for at least 20 years!

A big part of what goes on in classrooms, especially at the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning is totally tied to how we remember things, how the brain marshals and organises memories and how those memories are achieved (especially when undergoing summative assessments). Science is potentially getting closer to an ability to enable people to organise their memories/ learning in a wilful, deliberate way. This would eliminate a big part of the ‘chance’ element about which students succeed and which fail in the memorising game of school.

Of course, there are many moral and ethical debates that will come up related to this stuff, but i believe there are already ethical issues about education systems that label people for future success on the random chance of whether their brain’s ‘wiring’ happens to work well or badly with the one-size-fits-all delivery of learning material in schools.

Interesting times.

The Multi-Tasking Myth

So, I wonder right now, how many of our students have told their parents they’re doing their homework whilst they’re also engaging in some rapid fire texting, watching the TV and checking out the latest wall comments on Facebook.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but here is some pretty compelling evidence that a lot of people have been kidding themselves about this whole ‘multi-tasking’ myth. Sadly, the unfashionable but logical conclusion here is that the old-fashioned ideas about doing homework in peaceful, focused circumstances without distractions. If you’re going to do something effectively, there’s still no substitute for concentrated effort.

BBC Article on Multi-Tasking

This reminded me of some earlier research that i had read about related to learning. This suggested that learning is situational specific – in other words – for the best recall of material learned the situations of learning and recall should be similar. The research consisted of teaching certain things to divers whilst they were under water. Then, they were tested on said material both under water and in a classroom setting. recall under water was better.

One conclusion that can be drawn from this is that until schools start to offer facilities for examinations to be taken prone on a bed or the floor in front of a television set to MTV, that’s probably not the most effective place to learn school related material.

Boring and very sad, I know, but you can’t fight the workings of the human mind!!

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