What Is a Concept Map? Teaching Strategies Based on Visual Mapping Techniques and Use of Cmap Tools

The use of different learning styles within the classroom has long been a core teaching

The use of different learning styles within the classroom has long been a core teaching strategy, and with the exam season upon us again, the need to find effective methods which allow learners to condense key information into memorable chunks becomes even more pressing. Keywords are a useful starting point, but adding structure to these is important if disparate pieces of information are to be linked into a coherent story. This is where visual mapping can play a key role.

Although most people viewing a mind map or concept map will initially consider the words themselves to have the most importance, positioning of these words within the diagrams also holds key information. In mind maps, the overarching idea of the diagram will be found at the centre, with topics of reducing levels of importance radiating out from this until the detail resides at the edges. Related wedges may be shown by the use of different colours, and pictures and other aide memoire are also recommended to bring the creative mind into play 3-meo-pcp  Links, in the form of simple lines, usually show a number of branching pathways radiating out from the centre, giving a spider web structure to the final map.

The concept map, by contrast, has a top down hierarchical structure. A concept map requires both a context and a focus question, from which it should not deviate. It covers a domain of knowledge, and its creator, Joseph Novak envisaged that the development of a concept map would be undertaken by an expert in the field who would sift and sort the relevant keywords, giving them a rank value based on generality and inclusivity. Following this the words would be layered and linked, enhancing simple straight line linkages with additional written indications of relationships. It is interesting that increasingly mind maps also have writing along the linking lines (in addition to the keyword) – it seems that a simple line does not always convey enough information about relationships when the user is not simply using the diagram as a revision aid. As with mind mapping software, it is possible to use cmap tools to develop these concept maps for yourself. If you lack the confidence to start at the expert level, I cover here one more mapping type which may be of use.

The association map, in its simplest form, is just two keywords with a defined link. In terms of looks the diagrams are similar to a non-linear mind map, but structurally they have the more formal requirements of the concept map. The key point from a learning view, is that the relationship between the two keywords must always be clearly defined. A keyword may have many links to other keywords, but each pairing must have this well-defined link association. I have found the decisions one must make about these relationships have been some of the most useful in helping a student to overcome a misunderstanding, and in designing learning packages so that learners move more easily through a topic. Linking the unknown to the known has been a useful teaching strategy since time immemorial, and the association map is a particularly powerful way of tapping into this for some students.

Internal cross links between lower level keywords are less common in mind maps and concept maps than they are in association maps, with the branching tree structure tending to take precedence. With concept and mind maps, the relationship of each word to the overarching theme remains paramount. In association maps, however, the link becomes the key, and, as stated, the process of deciding which type of link joins keywords together is a valuable part of ascertaining correct understanding. If you can’t link two keywords effectively, you haven’t understood how they are related to one another!

This pairing and linking process allows a jigsaw like approach to the development of the knowledge map, and enables a student always to be working from a point of understanding. Most interestingly, when used to develop a map for a new topic where one is not an expert, it is possible to identify the high level terms which will take precendence at the top of a concept map once an association map has been developed.