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Concept mapping is a technique for visualizing the relationships between different concepts. A concept map is a diagram showing the relationships between concepts. Concepts are connected with labelled arrows, in a downward-branching hierarchical structure. The relationship between concepts is articulated in linking phrases, e.g., "gives rise to", "results in", "is required by," or "contributes to". Concept mapping serves several purposes. One, which takes place via knowledge elicitation, is to represent the mental models, i.e., the cognitive map of individuals, teams and organizations. Another, which takes place by knowledge capture, is to represent the structure of knowledge gleaned from written documents. The addition of knowledge resources, e.g., diagrams, reports, other concept maps, spreadsheets, etc., to the concept nodes (attached during or after construction) has been found to significantly improve the level of meaningful learning of the concept mapper. Educators are increasingly realising the utility of such maps and have started using them in classroom.

Example concept map, created using IHMC CmapTools


Concept maps are used to stimulate idea generation, and are believed to aid creativity. For example, concept mapping is sometimes used for brain-storming. Although they are often personalized and idiosyncratic, concept maps can be used to communicate complex ideas.

Formalized concept maps are used in software design, where a common usage is Unified Modeling Language diagramming amongst similar conventions and development methodologies.

Concept mapping can also be seen as a first step in ontology-building, and can also be used flexibly to represent formal argument.

Concept maps are widely used in education and business for:

  • Note taking and summarizing
  • Knowledge elicitation for individual expert knowedge and team knowledge
  • Knowledge capture: gleaning key concepts, their relationships and hierarchy from documents and source materials
  • New knowledge creation: e.g., transforming tacit knowledge into an organizational resource, mapping team knowledge
  • Institutional knowledge preservation (retention), e.g, eliciting and mapping expert knowledge of employees prior to retirement
  • Collaborative knowledge modeling and the transfer of expert knowledge
  • Facilitating the creation of shared vision and shared understanding within a team or organization
  • Instructional design: concept maps used as Ausubelian "advanced organizers"
  • Training: concept maps used a Ausubelian "advanced organizers" to represent the training context and its relationship to their jobs, to the organization's strategic objectives, to training goals.
  • Increasing meaningful learning:
  • Communicating complex ideas and arguments:
  • Examining the symmetry of complex ideas and arguments and associated terminology:
  • Detailing the entire structure of an idea, train of thought, or line of argument (with the specific goal of exposing faults, errors, or gaps in one's own reasoning) for the scrutiny of others.
  • Enhancing metacognition (learning to learn, and thinking about knowledge)
  • Improving language ability

Contrast with Mind mapping®

Concept mapping can be contrasted with the similar idea of Mind mapping (a trademark of the Buzan Organization). The latter is restricted to radial hierarchies and tree structures. Among the various schema and techniques for visualizing ideas, processes, organisations, concept mapping, as developed by Novak is unique in philosophical basis, which "makes concepts, and propositions composed of concepts, the central elements in the structure of knowledge and construction of meaning." Novak, J.D. & Gowin, D.B. (1996). Learning How To Learn, Cambridge University Press: New York, p. 7. There is research evidence that knowledge stored in the brain is hierarchical, with propositions as the core building blocks, because concept maps are constructed to reflect these organizational elements of knowledge, they facilitate sense-making and meaningful learning on the part of individuals who make concept maps and those who use them. Concept maps were developed to enhance meaningful learning in the sciences. A well made concept map grows within a context frame defined by an explicit "focus question," while a mind map has branches radiating out from a central picture.

Empirical evidence

Decades of empirical and qualitative research has verified the efficacy of concept maps for the tasks mentioned above.

The technique of concept mapping was developed by Joseph D. Novak [1] [2] at Cornell University in the 1970s, as a way to increase meaningful learning in the sciences. Concept maps have their origin in the learning movement called constructivism. In particular, constructivists hold that prior knowledge is used as a framework for understanding and learning new knowledge. Novak's work is based on the theories of David Ausubel (assimilation theory), who stressed the importance of prior knowledge in being able to learn new concepts. "The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach accordingly." (Ausubel, D. (1968) Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York). In his book Learning to Learn, Novak states that "meaningful learning involves the assimilation of new concepts and propositions into existing cognitive structures."

See also

External links

ca:Mapa conceptual es:Mapa conceptual eo:Koncepta mapo he:מפת מושגים hu:Fogalomtérkép zh:概念图

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