A concept map, also called a mind map, is a picture used to show concepts arranged around a central idea. Use concept mapping as a documentation technique in order to visualize the structure of a topic. A pictorial view allows you to summarize and consolidate complex information. Groups find the use of concept maps helpful in planning dependencies, organizing complex events, problem solving and generally making decisions. Concept maps can be created on paper or whiteboards or with specialized software.
Using Concept Maps in Learning Activities
Use concept maps to help students relate new information to knowledge they have already mastered. Start with an idea and draw it in the middle of a page. Then, write down words that relate to that idea. Next, make connections between the words and your original idea. These branches can help you view the possibilities without the restrictions imposed by a list or outline. Add pictures and text to illustrate the map. Drawing maps together helps show how topics are connected. Encourage the use of maps as a note taking strategy instead of highlighting text while reading. Create maps as study guides to help your students prepare for tests. You can also use maps as an assessment tool. When students create their own maps on subjects they've just learned, you can observe how well they have understood the lesson by the labels they use and the connections they make.
Using Concept Maps in Project Planning
Project planning involves sequencing activities. Particularly when the relationship between events is not clear or prescribed, use a concept map to brainstorm project organization. Concept maps reveal answers to questions such as "how are these activities related"" and "what are the dependencies?" and may trigger creative problem solving to project scheduling dilemmas. You may find the resulting visual a useful index to a project activities. You may reveal relationships and dependencies previously hidden. This unstructured approach is proven to show structures that make sense because it allows for associations based on connections of ideas the way your mind works, not necessarily in the order you may have been presented them.
Using Concept Maps in Meetings
During collaborative meetings, develop concept maps to document key information, address emotions if necessary and provide a take-away record of the meeting or conference. Particularly if you are facilitating a multiple-day event, the "big picture" can be revealed over time through the series of maps created showing the relationship of ideas discussed.
Tara Duggan is a Project Management Professional (PMP) specializing in knowledge management and instructional design. For over 25 years she has developed quality training materials for a variety of products and services supporting such companies as Digital Equipment Corporation, Compaq and HP. Her freelance work is published on various websites.