The History and Importance of Concept Mapping in Education

24 July 2022
Teaching Tips
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LiveBoard Staff

Concept mapping has been around for a long time, and its importance in education has only grown over the years. Concept mapping was first introduced by Joseph Novak and his team of researchers at Cornell University in the 1970s. At that time the goal was to create a tool to measure students’ understanding of a specific problem. Later on this approach evolved into a way to represent hierarchies of information meaningfully. Today the role of concept mapping in education is to help students structure their thoughts, learn new information, and develop critical thinking skills.

Concept Maps Defined

A concept map is a visual representation of relationships between concepts, ideas, or pieces of information. It can be used to organize thoughts, structure knowledge, or solve problems. Concept maps typically consist of nodes (representing concepts) and links (representing relationships). The most important thing to remember about concept maps is that they are flexible – they can be used in various ways to suit the user’s needs.

What is concept mapping in education? The question has several answers. In general, concept mapping in education refers to creating concept maps to help students learn. It’s not yet another visual graphic organizer to stuff information into students’ minds. Concept mapping goes beyond this by teaching students how to find, process, and organize information. When used correctly, concept maps can help students develop critical thinking, problem-solving and creative thinking skills.

Man staring at a wall with concept maps while brainstorming

The Theoretical Foundation Behind Concept Maps

As you may have already guessed, concept mapping is closely related to mental maps. In other words, it’s a way to organize and store information in the learner’s mind. The idea of mental maps, otherwise referred to as “cognitive maps,” was first introduced by Edward C. Tolman (1886-1959). He believed people form cognitive paths or mental shortcuts to simplify their decision-making. In other words, we create mental maps to make our lives easier by bundling information into manageable pieces.

The cognitive map theory found its way into education thanks to Joseph D. Novak and his colleagues, who had built their program based on David Ausubel’s learning psychology.

The fundamental idea was that concept mapping would help students learn by organizing their thoughts and ideas in a way that made sense to them. The researchers believed that by assimilating new concepts and propositions into the existing framework, learners could develop a deep understanding of the material.

Concept Mapping Psychology

Concept mapping is closely related to another educational concept called schema theory. Schemas are mental frameworks that we use to organize our knowledge. We develop schemas by observing and interacting with the world around us.

For example, when you meet someone for the first time, you use your past experiences to form a schema of who that person is. This schema includes information such as gender, age, race, etc.

You can think of concept maps as a way to organize your schemas. When people encounter new information, they can either create a new schema or add data to an existing one.

How to Construct a Concept Map

Rote Learning vs. Meaningful Learning

Before taking the first steps to construct a concept map, a person must know how to distinguish between rote learning and meaningful learning. According to Ausubel’s theory, meaningful learning occurs when a concept is integrated into the learner’s pre-existing schema. To make this happen, the concept must be relevant and non-redundant. Relevance implies connections between the phenomenon and the learner’s existing knowledge base, while non-redundancy means that the concept must contribute something new to what the learner already knows.

The essence of rote learning is memorization without understanding. When a concept is learned through rote, there is no connection created to the learner’s existing schema. This type of learning is often used when a person tries to understand a simple concept or when there is a need for quick recall but not for deep understanding.

Thus, the role of a concept map is to contribute to the development of meaningful learning while providing a hierarchy for organizing concepts.

Concept Mapping Techniques for Beginners

When constructing a concept map people often don’t know where to start. If you find yourself in a similar situation, the following steps will help create a simple yet effective map for your learning aspirations.

Step 1. Pick a topic you want to learn

This can be anything from the Revolutionary War to photosynthesis. The concept you choose should be something you’re interested in or want to know more about.

Topic for concept mapping

Step 2. Conduct research to identify the key concepts

Use books, websites, articles, etc., to learn about your chosen concept. As you read, take notes and identify the key ideas and terms related to your concept. These will be the nodes or topics of your concept map.

Step 3. Dig deeper into your knowledge base

This is the time for meaningful learning. Take the time to think about how the concept you’re mapping relates to what you already know. What are the connections between the new concept and your existing schemas?

Step 4. Create your concept map with LiveBoard

The final step is to put everything you’ve learned into a visual representation. You can use various tools to create concept maps, but LiveBoard is one of the most user-friendly and versatile platforms.

Concept maps in education are beneficial when explaining complex topics to students. By breaking down a concept into smaller pieces and creating connections between them, educators can provide learners with a clear and concise understanding of the topic. Let’s look at an example of how an interactive whiteboard can help construct a comprehensive concept map.

The solar system concept board example

The image above depicts the representation of a Solar System concept map created with LiveBoard. As you can see, the map is organized as a core that expands into different branches, with each concept represented by a node. Each node represents a single notion (asteroids, planets, the Sun, etc.) associated with the central concept. This is just a simple example of how a concept map can be used to organize information visually.

While brainstorming all the related ideas that come to mind, the map can be extended by adding more nodes and connections.

Concept mapping is a powerful tool that can be used for various purposes, from learning and studying to organizational tasks and brainstorming. If you’re looking for a way to improve your understanding of a concept or want to find a more efficient way of storing information, concept mapping is definitely worth a try.

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