Strategies for Learning - from Concept Maps to Learning Objects and Books to Wooks


Dr. Jack Yensen  Editor-in-Charge of eLearning

This is the first of a series of 4 linked articles that attempts to construct some strategies for learning. This, the first article, describes concept maps, and illustrates how to construct them and how to use them. The articles that follow will be organized as shown below:

Given sufficient interest, it is the intent of the author to build a set of CE courses to address each of these articles. Any person completing these courses should be able to design, build, deploy and manage concept maps, concept resource maps, learning objects and wooks.


Concept Maps


What are they and how do they work

A concept map is a visual (graphic) representation of the relationships between one or more concepts. Trochim(1) suggests:

“concept mapping is a structured process, focused on a topic or construct of interest, involving input from one or more participants, that produces an interpretable pictorial view (concept map) of their ideas and concepts and how these are interrelated.”

One of the early writers on concept maps was Joseph D. Novak of Cornell University. In the 1960s he taught about and published some of the first concept maps. There are some excellent examples of his concept maps at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, including a summary(2) of some of his ideas. Here is a one of his concept maps about concept mapping.

Here is a concept map about the mechanism of action of propranolol.

The visual map allows rapid inspection of relationships between concepts, both from the perspective of context and propositional logic, i.e. the ideas linking adjacent concepts. There are a number of advantages to concept mapping that transcend the sometimes linear ways we may think about concepts. Concept maps allow for clustering or contextual organizing according to themes or attributes. It is possible to discern overlaps or commonalities between concept maps from different disciplines, which allows for cross-disciplinary enrichment. Concept maps allow the generation of multiple ways of constructing meaning, which promotes transfer and learning for practitioners and students alike. From a learning standpoint, a concept map can suggest instructional strategies, including choice of media, since the propositional logic connecting concepts will determine the level of abstraction and hence the degree of assimilative difficulty for the learner. Hence the more abstract the logic, the greater attention needs to be paid to the principles of higher order learning. Highly abstract concept maps may be used as meta maps linking to subordinate maps, which drill down to greater levels of granularity and specification. Here is an example of a simple meta map for pain:

If we click on the concept of acute pain, we could see a drill down to a possible etiologies map. Here is the etiologies map in a more detailed outline form to show a greater level of granularity and specificity:

Any concept or set of concepts may be mapped in this fashion to aid in organizing, constructing and deconstructing of knowledge.


How do I construct them?


There are many examples of software that can be used to design and build concept maps quickly and easily, each with their own advantages and limitations. Some of the software I have used and still use includes:

Mind Manager Enterprise Edition $269
Inspiration $129
CMap free
The Brain $79.95 Personal Edition


Here are some examples of concept maps built using each type of software.


Mind Manager


This allows quick and easy brainstorming and collaboration within groups, physically co-located or virtually linked. It will import and export from MS Office and allows direct importing of outlines, if you enjoy using a word processor outlining tool to develop your concept maps. Here is an example of a concept map developed in a few minutes using Mind Manager:

Here is the CMap version of the same map:

How do I use them?


As an instructor in a nursing program, I use concept mapping to help me design and construct new courses, and new modules within courses. In a recent curriculum change, it was advantageous to map the entire curriculum and examine the courses and course concepts within the context of the academic year as well as within the context of each other. I was able to tell at a glance where themes and continuities existed, and could see where redundancies and omissions occurred. It is invaluable for curriculum development and implementation. For actual course work, I use maps to explore and develop concepts and ask students to generate their own concept maps. This has lead to very creative productivity - in once case a Jade plant representing the concept domain for diabetes, with each stem bifurcation being labelled and representing with each new layer of leaves a new set of child or sibling concepts for diabetes. Such exercises may be used as in class activities or as small group assignments. The students always enjoy mapping and often state that they have developed a new appreciation for the subject matter.

Concept mapping can be used by small groups to facilitate problem solving, project planning, evalution and management, curriculum development, human resource management, organizational development, product and business development, process flow charting, and as a template for the systematic mining and management of resources. This is known as concept resource mapping and will form the basis of the next article.




(1) William M K Trochim. (2002). Concept Mapping (Concept Mapping). Retrieved 12/05/02, from


(2) Joseph D Novak. (2001). IHMC Concept Map Software (Concept Mapping). Retrieved 12/05/02, from




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