Concept Maps

Novak and Gowin (1984) developed concept maps as a means of graphically representing related concepts within a specific knowledge domain. They are used to illustrate the flow within a topic area and indicate the relationships between the key concepts. Concept maps are presented in a hierarchical format with sub-topics branching from a primary concept or idea and then breaking down into more specific concepts.

Concept maps enable students to visually identify connections to foster a deeper understanding of the knowledge structure. They allow a learner to explore an idea and its relationship with other concepts. Concept maps can appear in a static format, or as an interactive activity where you can direct learners from the concept to the related materials. These maps ease cognitive load by focusing on essential relationships and supporting exploration of materials for deeper learning.

Concept maps can align to both cognitive and constructivist approaches to learning. They can be created by the domain expert to aid comprehension of course structure and concept relationships. Alternatively, learners can engage with the process to aid understanding individual, or through collaboration and knowledge sharing.

Key Features of a Concept Map

Concepts: Concepts are the key components of your concept map. They are depicted as square icons within the diagram (See Figure 1). Concepts should be kept as singular words or short phrases.

Links: Links are the words or short phrases that appear within the lines on the diagram. They are used to describe the relationship between two concepts. They are normally verbs and are as concise as possible.

Propositions: The propositional structure is the relationship between concepts and links, which work together to form meaningful statements. This is the basis for the structure of the knowledge domain.

Parking Lot: This is a simple list of the concepts that should be included within your map. When creating your Parking Lot, it can be helpful to rank them in order from high-level terms to more specific items.

Cross-Links: Your concept map will contain many relationships. Cross-links are relationships between different domains within your structure. This will help learners visualise how different concepts relate to each other and enable them to see the connection.


Novak, J. D. (2010). Learning, Creating, and Using Knowledge: Concept maps as facilitative tools in schools and corporations. Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society, 21-30.

Novak, J., & Gowin, B. (1984). Learning how to learn. Oxford: Cambridge University Press.