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Digital thinking tools for better decision making
Digital thinking tools for better decision making

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2 Going digital

An argument map from Whately’s ‘Elements of logic’
Figure 2 An argument map from the logic textbook Elements of Logic (on page 467 of the 1852 edition) by Richard Whately, professor of political economy at Oxford and Anglican archbishop of Dublin

Argument mapping goes back at least as far as the mid-19th century (see Figure 2). At that time electronic digital computers hadn’t been invented. As soon as the first electronic computers were built, it was only a matter of time before argument mapping went digital.

Vannevar Bush with an electromechanical device for helping solve complex differential equations
Figure 3 Vannevar Bush with an electromechanical device for helping solve complex differential equations

As early as 1945, Vannevar Bush (the electrical engineer and director of the US Office of Scientific Research and Development during the Second World War; Figure 3), mused that:

Then, on beyond the strict logic of the mathematician, lies the application of logic in everyday affairs. We may some day click off arguments on a machine with the same assurance that we now enter sales on a cash register.

(Bush, 1945, p. 5)

Today, there is a wide variety of digital tools for mapping arguments. Some of these tools have been designed specifically for argument mapping. Whereas some of these tools can also be used for other purposes.

Activity 1 Search activity

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Search online for argument-mapping tools with your favourite web browser. Make some notes on the differences between the available software. For instance, which operating system (Windows, MAC OS, or Linux) is required?


Google search claims to have found no less than 19 million pages for the keywords argument, mapping and tools. In second place is the ‘Argument map’ Wikipedia page. This page includes a section with external links to argument-mapping software.

Some of the software is cross-platform (which means you can use it on Windows, Linux and Mac OS machines). Other software requires a particular platform (e.g. Windows), whereas other software is web-based. This means that you can run it in your web browser. That is great because you can run a web browser on almost any computer (including mobile devices). However, on the flipside, this does mean that you can only edit your maps when you are online.

You may have found it perfectly doable to create argument maps with pen and paper. So why go digital? In Session 1 you saw that digital-thinking tools can help extend our natural capabilities in several ways, as shown in Figure 4.

A schematic showing five ways in which digital thinking tools can extend our natural capabilities
Figure 4 Five ways in which digital thinking tools can extend our natural capabilities

Activity 2 Extending our natural capabilities

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Consider each of the five dimensions in Figure 4 in which natural capabilities can be extended. For each dimension, write down how digital argument mapping may extend our natural capabilities.

Before you start, you may want to revisit the argument-mapping tools that you found in Activity 1 and read some of the descriptions of these tools.


  • Creation refers to the fact that digital tools allow us to create data in many formats. Most digital tools for argument mapping allow us to store the maps in a variety of formats, including structured text, images and web pages.
  • Plasticity refers to the fact that information in digital form is easy to reform and reorganise. Digital argument mapping tools allow us to reorganise the relations and nodes in an argument map, copy and paste text into nodes, and so on. Any changes are made with little effort and can be undone with the click of a button.
  • Reach refers to the fact that digital technology allows us to share data easily with potentially millions of other people. Once a map is digital, it is easy to send to the other side of the world with a single click. There are also tools that allow for collaboration on maps with others. Two people can be working many thousands of miles apart and yet edit the same map.
  • Speed refers to the rate at which information can be processed. Once a map or collection of maps has been created, you can, for example, search the maps for key words or claims. The result is available within milliseconds. In contrast, searching a pile of pen-and-paper maps could take hours, days or even months.
  • Scale refers to the fact that digital tools let us gather, access, store and analyse gigantic amounts of data. This one is intimately connected to speed. Being able to search a bunch of maps at speed allows us to deal with many more maps than would be feasible if working with pen and paper maps.