Concept Mapping – A Tool For Organizing And Representing Knowledge

About Concept Mapping

“If I had to reduce all of educational psychology to just one principle I would say this: The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach him accordingly.” – David Ausubel (1968)

Concept mapping emerges directly from David P. Ausubel’s Assimilation Theory of meaningful verbal learning. The underlying basis of the theory is that meaningful (as opposed to rote) human learning occurs when new knowledge is consciously and purposively linked to an existing framework of prior knowledge in a non-arbitrary, substantive fashion. In rote (or memorized) learning, new concepts are added to the learner’s framework in an arbitrary and verbatim way, producing a weak and unstable structure that quickly degenerates. Joseph Novak is widely credited as the creator of concept maps, and has been writing and researching them since the 1970s.

“Concept maps are intended to represent meaningful relationship between concepts in the form of propositions.” – Novak (1984)

Concept Mapping is a graphic organizer technique used to show the hierarchical relationships between and among concepts through the creation of a visual map of connections. Concept mapping is one of a broad family of graphic organizing tools, that includes mind mapping, argument mapping and spider diagramming. Concept Mapping is an excellent exercise for the promotion of creative thinking and identification of new problem-solving methods. Concept mapping supports the idea of building better frameworks of knowledge by enhancing the relationship-building between concepts and ideas. It serves as a pedagogical device to encourage learners to visualize interrelationships, to identify misconceptions, and to build bridges between two concepts or ideas

Concept Mapping

A concept is a perceived regularity in events or objects, or a record of events or objects, designated by a label. The core element of a concept map is a proposition, which consists of two or more concepts connected by a labeled link. Sometimes propositions are called semantic units, or units of meaning. In a concept map, propositions are connected to each other to form a hierarchical, branching, and dendritic structure that represents the organization of knowledge in long-term memory.

Concept mapping is often confused with mind mapping. Mind maps are less formal and structured. Concept maps are formal and generally more tightly structured. Mind maps emphasise diagrams and pictures to aid recall of associations; concept maps generally use hierarchical structure and relational phrases to aid understanding of relationships. However, concept maps can take a variety of forms ranging from hierarchical, to non-hierarchical forms, and even data-driven maps where the input determines the shape of the map. The difference between mind mapping and concept mapping is also at the level of precision and formality. The aim of concept mapping is not to generate spontaneous associative elements but to outline relationships between ideas. Thus, concept mapping is a relational device. Each proposition is a statement of understanding and the validity of each assertion is open to scrutiny. Thus, the concept mapping method is much more stringent than mind mapping and actively differentiates between knowledge (of appropriate concept labels) and understanding (that is the product of concept linkage).

The basic assumption of the concept map is that “inter-relatedness” is an essential property of knowledge, and that “understanding” can be represented through a rich set of relations among important concepts in a discipline. The map is composed of concept labels, each enclosed in a box or oval; a series of labeled linking lines, and an inclusive, general-to-specific organization.

An important characteristic of concept maps is that the concepts are represented in a hierarchical fashion with the most inclusive, most general concepts at the top of the map and the more specific, less general concepts arranged below. The hierarchical structure for a particular domain of knowledge also depends on the context in which that knowledge is being applied or considered. Therefore, it is best to construct concept maps with reference to some particular question we seek to answer, which termed as a “focus question”.

Another important characteristic of concept maps is the inclusion of “cross-links.” These make explicit relationships between or among concepts in different regions or domains within the concept map. Cross-links show how a concept in one domain of knowledge represented on the map is related to a concept in another domain shown on the map. In the creation of new knowledge, cross-links often represent creative leaps on the part of the knowledge producer.

A final aspect of the structure of concept maps is the inclusion of specific examples of events or objects. These can help to clarify the meaning of a given concept.

Concept maps are flexible. They can be simple or highly detailed, linear or branched, hierarchical or cross-linked, or they can contain all of these major elements.

Concept Mapping Procedure

A standard procedure for concept map construction involves defining the topic or focus question, identifying and listing the most important or “general” concepts that are associated with that topic, ordering the concepts from top to bottom in the mapping field, and adding and labeling linking phrases. Once the preliminary concept map has been built, cross-links are identified and added, and a review of the map for completeness and correctness is performed. The Concept Mapping procedure involves a series of steps:

  1. Define the central topic or focus question.
  2. Identify and list the most important or “general” concepts that are associated with that topic.
  3. Rank the concepts (key words) from the most abstract and inclusive to the most concrete and specific.
  4. Cluster concepts that function at similar level of abstraction and those that interrelate closely.
  5. Arrange concepts in a diagrammatic representation.
  6. Add linking lines and where appropriate label lines with a qualifying word or phrase.
  7. Groups of people can work together on a concept map – this is a good way to “brainstorm” a problem or idea.

Applications of Concept Mapping

Concept mapping has been put to many uses in education, business and government. The process of concept mapping for educational purposes can foster the learning of well integrated structural knowledge as opposed to the memorization of fragmentary, unintegrated facts.  Concept mapping can be used for knowledge capture – for the elicitation of expert knowledge that an organization might wish to preserve and share with others. In addition, concept mapping can be used in support of group processes such as brainstorming. A concept map’s concise, visual representation of knowledge “at a glance” can simplify the conveyance of understandings, and fosters discussion.

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