What is a Concept Map? Concept Maps Explained
A concept map is a diagram that visually represents the connections between related ideas. The most common format is made up of shapes (the ideas) that are linked by lines (the relationships). The shapes often contain a few words explaining the idea. The lines can be accompanied by text to show the nature of the relationship.
Concept maps can be very complex or very simple.
The above image shows a concept map explaining what a concept map is. The pink shape represents the broad theme of the concept map. Below, ideas or concepts central to that theme are represented by light blue squares. Further ideas are seen in the darker blue and green rectangles.
Between shape is a line. Most of these lines contain text explaining the relationship between the connected shapes.
Let’s take a look at a more basic example.
The below diagram is a simple concept map showing the relationships between apples, humans, and trees.
In the diagram, we have three concepts: apples, humans, and trees. We can see that the relationship between humans and apples is that humans eat apples. Meanwhile, apples are produced by trees. And trees are grown by humans.
That last paragraph in which I clumsily repeated the words “apples”, “humans”, and “trees” over and over shows the value of concept maps. That text is represented simply and clearly in the above diagram.
In a simple example, a paragraph of text can do a decent job of explaining these relationships.
But what if we were to include other factors? For example, where does the farm that fields the trees fit into this network of relationships? What about the farmer? And where do humans buy the apples?
In text alone, the inclusion of new factors requires many lines of writing and reading. The more complicated the web, the more written text is required. Often, this is not a practical way of understanding the relationships between numerous concepts.
But using a concept map, we can add many concepts into the network without losing sight of the bigger picture. We can view and understand many pieces of information efficiently.
Incredibly efficiently, in fact. Research has shown that the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text. Wow!
Concept map ideas and applications
Concept maps have many applications. They are often used in education. Concept maps can be very helpful to students for:
- Studying an article, textbook, or novel
- Understanding newly learnt concepts
- Planning for an essay or assignment
- Studying for exams
Concept maps are also popular in business planning. For example, executives might use them for:
- Marketing plans
- Designing physical products
- Building applications and software products
- Technical writing
- Human resource planning
They are common, too, in creative industries. For example:
- Crafting the story for a novel
- Structuring a non-fiction book
- Crafting a news story
We could go on!
The bottom line is concept maps are applicable to any situation where there are related ideas.
Different types of concept maps
Above, we saw two examples of typical concept maps. But there are a few different types that structure ideas and relationships in different ways.
Let’s take a look at the different structures of concept maps.
In the above image, there are four types:
The flowchart map shows the flow of information in a certain direction. A classic timeline is effectively a flowchart map.
This map, as the name suggests, places concepts within a certain hierarchy. Family trees are often drawn in this style.
The spider map has one central concept at its core. Ideas are connected around that concept. Traditional mind maps and brainstorms use this structure.
A system map has no hierarchy: it is a series of information points related to each other with connecting lines.
Gloow, the concept mapping mobile app, combines the spider map and system map structures. In Gloow, there is no hierarchy to the information and no limit to the number of connections between ideas (called nodes).
The benefit of such a structure is that often there is no real hierarchy to related concepts. For example, a family tree might be drawn as a hierarchy map. But this limits the number of connections each family member can have.
In reality, family trees are not trees, but complex webs with a never-ending number of people involved. These relationships are better represented on a system map with no limit to connections.
How to Make a Concept Map
You can make a concept map in four simple steps.
Choose your medium
How are you going to create your concept map?
There are many options available to you. The classic being a pen and paper! But there highly productive digital concept map tools, too – such as Gloow.
Identify the central theme
To start, you need a main idea to base your map around. Ultimately, you are using it to solve a problem or produce a piece of work. The first step is to identify your problem.
Outline key concepts
You know what your central theme is. Now you need to fill your map (known as a domain on Gloow) with ideas related to the broader concept.
Write a list of ideas that you think are relevant. Be concise; “apples” is easier to visualize than “malus domestica”!
Connect the dots
Once you are clear on the ideas that you are including, it is time to connect the dots. Ideas alone are OK; connected to each other, you start to understand the big picture.
And that’s all for today. We hope this blog post has helped answer the question: what is a concept map?