What is a Concept Map

Say you know how to bake different types of cakes, and you want to try your hand at baking a pie without any prior knowledge about baking pies. However, the idea of baking remains the same, whatever be the end product. What I’m trying to say here is that when we add new knowledge and information to existing ones that we already are aware of, it becomes easier to interpret and to remember. And the best way to do that is by drawing up a concept map.
In this article, we will learn everything there is to about concept maps, what they are, what use do they have, some real-life examples, and, most importantly, how to create one.

What is a Concept Map?

A concept map is a visualization tool for graphically representing knowledge or concepts. However, if you are looking for a definition to put in your project report, you may refer to the following viewpoint:

“A Concept Map is a graphical visualization tool for organizing as well as representing knowledge or concepts and is used to draw a relation between those concepts with their applicable ideas. The concepts are depicted as enclosed within circular or oval-shaped boxes and linked to one another with connecting lines; the phrases on the connecting lines show us the relation between two particular concepts.”

These concepts within circularly shaped boxes are called nodes in a concept map. These nodes get structured by maintaining the hierarchical order in which they are to be perceived and interpreted. The connecting lines are called arcs, and sometimes they have an arrowhead showing the flow of the map.

Concept Map

Image Source: gstatic.com


Evolution of the Concept Mapping Theory

The origins of the Concept Mapping Theory date back to Dr. Joseph Novak’s Theory of learning in the 1970s. He and his researchers team from Cornell University were trying to understand and describe the conceptual understandings of children.

They were studying Piaget’s theories of cognitive operational stages at the time. Psychologist Jean Piaget postulated that children below the age of eleven could not comprehend abstract concepts like, for example, the nature of matter. Furthermore, Dr. Novak also got inspired by the works of David Ausubel, a well-known proponent of Piaget’s theories. Based on these backgrounds, Dr. Novak decided to work on a new project where they would observe minute changes in the behavior of children while learning new ideas.

He took Ausubel’s work as a basis for his research project.

According to David Ausubel: “The single most important factor in learning is what the learner already knows; to establish that fact and teach the learner accordingly is the best path to follow.”

It became the cornerstone for his “Theory of Learning” and the concept map. Thus from 1972 onwards, the concept map has become the most widely used tool and is used by specialists across many fields from science & education to business & healthcare.


Why is Concept Mapping Important?

The human brain processes visuals (photos, slides, etc.) much faster than it does so with texts, about 60,000 times faster. The theory of concept mapping revolves very much around this fact. As such, this tool is designed to help users visualize relationships between various concepts and improves their capability of comprehending complex subjects. It helps to form a mental connection, which in turn allows for better understanding and preservation of knowledge and information.

Although concept mapping generally applies to academia, it can be useful in various other fields as well. We will see them later on. There are a variety of benefits that one can extract out of it:

  • Helps users to understand concepts more clearly by enabling them to visualize the said concept(s);
  • Though it synthesis of information with the integration of new ideas to existing older ones, it allows a user to grasp the big picture;
  • Helps to encourage brainstorming and sophisticated thinking in students;
  • Helps students to discover new concepts and forge their connections;
  • Helps users to communicate more clearly and easily regarding complex ideas.


Concept Map vs. Mind Map

Many people get confused between a concept map and a mind map. In essence, both of them are visualization tools to represent ideas. However, the two have some fundamental differences:

Concept Map


Key elements of a Concept Map

Concept maps often referred to as conceptual diagrams may seem similar to other types of graphs. However, they have specific unique characteristics:

  1.  Concepts
  2. Concepts are the apparent patterns in any event or object that are designated by a label. They represent in the map as circular or oval shapes.

  3.  Linking words/phrases
  4. These are present on the lines connecting each idea to the next one. They describe the relationship between the two connected concepts. These phrases are as concise as possible, and typically they contain a verb. For example, cause, includes, etc.

  5.  Hierarchical structure
  6. It is the most critical element of a concept map. The most comprehensive and general concepts get placed towards the top with the more specific ones below, maintaining the pecking order. The way to read a concept map is from top to bottom, much like Japanese scriptures.

  7.  Focus question
  8. If a hierarchical structure is the most critical element, then the focus question is the necessary element. That is because the focus question defines the problem you want to address and solve with the concept map. It often serves as the reference point of the plan. Hierarchically a focus question remains at the very top of the map.

  9.  Cross-links
  10. In a concept map, it often happens that concepts from different fields and domains are related to each other, and to define or label this relation, you use a cross-link. This is the element that brings in the creativity in a concept map.


Learn from Concept Map Examples

Eg. I:  Concept Mapping in Science

  • Focus Question:  Acids & Bases

The following Concept Map in science is used to visually represent the underlying concept of Acids and Bases, their characteristics, and the results of the neutralization reaction.

Concept mapping in science

Image Source: inspiration.com


Eg. II:  Concept Mapping in Business

  • Focus Question:  Car Group

The following concept map example describes a car group and all the related concepts. It shows what a car group has and describes the car models that include theories of the manufacturer, body type, etc. this can be a valid map for starting your car dealership.

A concept map for car groups

Image Source: graphdatamodeling.com


Eg. III:  Concept Mapping in Teaching

  • Focus Question:  Parts of Speech

The following concept map can be used to teach students about the different parts of speech. For a better understanding of the key elements are highlighted in red.

A concept map representing parts of speech

Image Source: gstatic.com


How to create the ideal Concept Map with EdrawMax Online?

EdrawMax Online is the best tool for creating concept maps. It is compatible with both Windows and Mac OS and has numerous inbuilt templates to help you create concept mapping in science and other fields.

Now, before you start, first of all, understand the theory of concept mapping and the elements involved. Then familiarize yourself with the interface of the diagramming tool you are going to use to create one.


Let us see how you can create the ideal concept map with EdrawMax Online:

Step 1:  As the first step, open the home-page of EdrawMax online tool signup and login


Step 2:  Now, select the ‘Concept Map’ template, and a new drawing window will open

Step 3:  From the ‘Concept Map Shapes’ library to the left of the canvas, drag and drop the shapes you want and double click on the forms to label them

Step 4:  Then, use the line tool to create the connecting lines. Click at any connecting end of the shape and drag till the connecting point of the next

Step 5:  Keep doing this till all the concept shapes edit and connect as per the project

Step 6:  Finally, save your project on the Google cloud service.


Limitations of Concept Map

Although concepts maps are very beneficial to users, especially students, it does have some limitations or flaws:

  • Compared to a multiple-choice questionnaire, a concept map becomes harder to evaluate for the instructors;
  • Sometimes all the concept maps look similar which again makes it hard for the instructor to assess them;
  • Grad-students generally refrain from using concept maps as they seem rather dull after numerous sessions of solving differential equations and SHM equations;


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