A concept map is a diagram used in learning a concept, or topic, or number of related topics, extending existing understanding (knowledge creation), or presenting knowledge. Each concept or topic may occupy a box or just be a phrase and is joined to other boxes or words by a line. The line may include a description of how the two topics are related. For example "Canberra" may be connected to "Australia" by a line captioned "is the seat of government of". Another box "Sydney" on the same concept map may have a line connecting it to "Australia" with the relationship "is the financial center and commercial capital of".
In contrast with mind maps, concept maps are not usually centered on one topic but can spread across a page in a complex net.
The early descriptions of concept maps explain that they are hierarchical, they have a dominant concept which is what the concept map is 'about' and this often appears at the top, but there is no rigid rule on this. You will often find non-hierarchical maps, for example a concept map of the Nitrogen cycle.
The process of building the map has value as well as the end result. To build a concept map, you need to analyze the topic in hand, and reach an understanding. They are therefore useful in organizing information as it comes to hand in the course of study or research. Research on the Internet or in a library, rarely turns up information in neat and logical sequence, and concept mapping provides a useful way of structuring the knowledge acquired.
They are commonly used in schools and colleges in the USA and are seen by many educationalists as a valuable learning technique. They are used in business and government to a lesser extent.
The finished map provides a quick reference, laid out in a way that reflects your own thinking, so it's easy to find your way around. Concept maps are often used as learning tools, but they can also be used to express complex areas of knowledge.
You can see examples of concept maps in our Directory: Mindmaps Directory -- concept maps
Concept mapping was developed by Joe Novak of Cornell University in the 1970s, and were recently extended and codifed as an ISO standard: XML Topic Maps.
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