Concept maps are much like graphic organizers. They organize and represent knowledge in a manner that best suits the learner. Because students individualize their concept mapping process, they tap their prior knowledge and emotions for better learning.
The Institute for Human and Machine Cognition lists three ways that concept maps help facilitate meaningful learning. Concept maps present information in a clear and concise way with examples, they build off students’ prior knowledge and they motivate students to gain control over their learning. People learn better when they feel involved in the process.
Concept mapping has four features. Maps have boxes or circles that enclose a concept, they are built in a hierarchical fashion, they have links between concepts and have specific examples for elaboration.
Concept mapping is effective because it allows students to move past rote memory that has no emotional commitment to the concept. However, students must “possess at least a rudimentary conceptual understanding of the phenomenon they are investigating” or they will gain little relevant knowledge, states the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in its article, “The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and Construct and Use Them.”
Concept mapping shows relationships via color, symbol and design, according to “If The Shoe Fits” by Carolyn Chapman, an international educator, consultant and trainer. Concept mapping has better effectiveness when students design their own maps, as students can picture their ideas.
Teachers can use concept maps as both a learning and evaluation tool. They can help students reflect on their work, review for exams and identify valid and invalid ideas before starting a new lesson.