Trying to get a handle on a couple of really good ideas is difficult enough on its own – but trying to organize dozens of ideas, figuring out how they relate to one another, and creating a structured methodology to use those ideas going forward is something else entirely.
Thankfully though, with the help of a concept map, you’re going to be able to dramatically simplify things when it comes to brainstorming, when it comes to analyzing ideas or problems, and when it comes to mapping out your best move forward.
Below we dig a little deeper into the idea behind concept mapping in touch on a couple best uses for this powerful productivity tool. By the time you’re done with the inside info below you’ll be able to hit the ground running with all that concept mapping has to offer!
What is a Concept Map?
When boiled down to its absolute basics and essentials, a concept map is really nothing more than a diagram or a visual representation of the individual and shared relationships between core concepts and ideas.
As we highlighted above, as soon as you start to think of new ideas to tackle a problem, to overcome an obstacle more to achieve a goal you’re going to find that organizing these great ideas – and figuring out which one to pursue and when – becomes a real handful.
With concept maps, however, the process is streamlined and simplified significantly. These conceptual diagrams aren’t just easier to build than other “relationship charts”, but they dovetail nicely with the way your brain thinks about disparate ideas and how it combines them together through their shared relationships.
Components of a Concept Map
There are a couple of big pieces to the overall puzzle of a concept map, foundational components that every effective concept map is going to share.
For starters, you’ll need to begin your concept map with a core concept itself.
This is going to be the main hub that the rest of your components branch off on. Think of this as the patterns or intertwined ideas you’re working with that you want to flesh out further with the help of a concept map.
From there, you’re going to want to work on branching off each of these core concepts with linking words or phrases.
These are the words and phrases that you’ll used to connect different concepts to one another when they have shared relationships, building bridges between those two different ideas and those two different concepts while defining what that shared relationship is all about, too.
Keep things nice and simple when you’re building out these linking phrases (limited to three or four words whenever possible) and you’ll find your concept map a lot easier to navigate when it is fleshed out.
The next thing you’ll need to do is actually structure your concept map. There are a couple of different approaches – the propositional structure or a hierarchal structure – and there’s no hard or fast rule that you can’t combine or use both of them at the same time.
A propositional structure is built on the back of two or more core concepts and the interlinking words or phrases that combine them. A hierarchal structure, on the other hand, is a lot more generalized and encompasses more inclusive concepts that gives structure in regards to readability more often than not.
The elements that round out proper concept mapping approaches include:
- A focus question (a quick summation of the obstacle or goal that you’re creating a concept map for in the first place)
- A “parking lot” which is basically a big collection of your concepts, ideas, and more loosely defined that you’ll place into their appropriate space later on
- And cross-links that branch from one concept to another as well as from linking words and phrases to define those relationships, too
History of Concept Maps
A team of researchers, led by Doctor Joseph Novak, working at Cornell University in the 1970s pioneered what we would later call a concept map.
This team of researchers was looking for a tool that they could use to better explain the more explicit developments in the conceptual understanding of the world that children have as they get older.
The researchers were interested in finding a way to reduce down the process of learning as much as possible without negatively impacting its affects, discovering along the way that “the most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows”.
By mapping out everything that the research team already understood they were able to find the blind spots in the gaps in their knowledge quite quickly, but were also able to come up with new and innovative ideas that they wouldn’t have stumbled across without the now obvious relationships different concepts had with one another on the map itself.
How to Create a Concept Map
Very similar to a mind map – at least in the way they look aesthetically, anyway – the overwhelming majority of concept maps are found in the academic world whereas mind maps are little more “free” and found in the worlds of business, education, and in the personal lives of millions all over the world, too.
As we highlighted a little earlier, everything starts with a focus question and a central idea that the rest of your key concepts are built off of from there.
Each individual key concept then has a relation with other key concepts and new ideas that may or may not be related to other core concepts. The map grows with all the new relationships you uncover or create as well as with all the new concepts that you bring to the map.
The finished results shows you how each of these core concepts are relationally connected to each other (or not), giving you a much better “big picture” kind of you of the central focus question you are working with.
You can create concept maps manually, or the easiest way is to use software such as Zen Mind Map.
Top Use Cases of Concept Maps
There are a lot of reasons people turn to concept maps when they’re looking to learn, when they’re looking to better understand, and when they are looking to overcome obstacles or achieve new goals – but we highlight some of the top use cases of concept maps below.
In the world of education, for example, concept mapping can be used to help students that are exhibiting real creativity and higher cognitive levels in particular.
These tools can be used to distill down complex material in a visual way, can be used to help organize and structure new material before it is introduced, and can be used to take notes and to brainstorm new ideas as well.
Concept mapping plays a big role in the business world, too.
Small businesses and major multinational corporations alike use concept mapping to communicate complex ideas quickly and efficiently, to provoke intuitive and visual thinking, and to encourage everyone involved in the success of a business to think about the interconnected relationships between processes and products/services (as well as so much more) more effectively.
Some concept maps are used to build new products and new services whereas are used to create new marketing and advertising campaigns. Others still are used to better organize (or reorganize) businesses more efficiently, better describing and outlining the relationships between all of the principal partners and the key positions they play in the success of a business.
At the end of the day, there is real power in concept mapping and it’s not all that difficult to master, either.