What is a concept map and why should you use one? In this tutorial, we’ll look at concept mapping, practical examples of concept maps, and how to use concept maps yourself.
1. What Is Concept Mapping?
So, what is a concept map anyway?
Let’s begin with a concise concept map definition. Concept maps are a visual tool that one can use to represent and organize information.
A concept map is an excellent tool for depicting relationships between ideas. As a graphical tool, it can make it easier to understand and remember complicated information too.
Concept maps are commonly used for:
- educational purposes
- problem solving
- and more
Here’s a visual example of a concept map:
This is a simple concept map that was created in Microsoft PowerPoint, although you could use any software or media of choice. Notice how it starts with a core concept and then there are branching parts. Each of these parts break down the concept in a hierarchical way.
To further clarify our definition of concept map, let’s take a look at some of a concept map’s key parts.
Concepts, Hierarchy, and Structure
The core of a concept map is just that: the concept you’re looking to organize, represent, or explain. These concepts are usually depicted in a box or node in the concept map.
Here’s a simple concept. Let’s say we’re going to explore computers as a resource in a small business. We could start our concept map with “Computer Usage” as the beginning of our map.
Concept maps largely rely on hierarchy and structure to help convey the concept at hand. So, looking at our computer concept, let’s start to break things down. Let’s say the computers are used in three different ways:
We could add these three concepts to the side of our concept—they’re basically sub content that complements our main focus. This is visually communicated by things like the way they’re arranged and their smaller size.
Nodes, Branches, and Connections
And that’s where nodes, branches, and connections start to come in. These three sub concepts all relate to our main focus here—so we can visually connect them to further communicate this idea.
Notice how, with little verbal or textual communication, we can see that the computers in our business serve three main functions now.
Organization plays a large role here, as well, especially as our map starts to get more complicated. We can continue to add sub content here, connecting and relating things as needed. You may even have cross over—which is why organizing this content is so important.
And, in the end, we end up with a visual representation of a concept that may have been far more complex or difficult to understand without a visual aid.
In this example, imagine you were a new employee. Having a visual guide like this, in regards to how company computers are used, could be a quick and easy way to better understand this information.
Concept Maps vs Mind Maps
You may also be familiar with Mind Maps—another visual tool that shares some similarity with concept maps. When you’re looking at a concept map definition, it might be easy to confuse the two. They both visually convey information that tends to be branched. But they very bit on their purpose and focus.
Here’s an example of a Mind Map. Notice how it’s more abstract and revolves around idea generation. It can still potentially break down ideas—in a way similar to a concept map—but this is more of a brainstorming tool. Think of it like a means of organizing free flowing creative thoughts around a subject.
Concept maps tend to be far more hierarchical and even educational. Like we explored earlier, concept maps are generally branched and focused on connecting and expanding based on key concepts.
Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the differences here:
Remember, concept maps tend to be more hierarchical. Mind Maps tend to all stem from one point and tend to be more from a brainstorming point of view.
That’s not to say both aren’t very useful, and that sometimes they might not have some overlap.
Could you use a concept map to help organize and brainstorm processes? Absolutely.
Could a Mind Map be used to develop a concept—that could in turn be used for a concept map? Yes, and that’s probably a great idea!
2. Examples of Concept Maps
Next, let’s look at some examples of concept maps and ways you could use them.
Concept Map Example: Educational
Let’s start by using a concept map to explain a complex concept. In this scenario, we’ll work from the perspective of illustrating a concept so it’s easier for others to understand. Concept maps can be a wonderful tool for classrooms and other academic situations. They can also work great for education in general, whether it’s in the workplace or otherwise.
This concept map explores some basic software functionality that employees at a mock company should be familiar with:
Imagine having a concept map like this to guide you through something for the first time. It might prove to be an easier to understand resource, as opposed to simply hearing about the concept or walking through it with someone once. A resource like this could prove to be a strong study guide or resource—rather than resorting to asking for a re-explanation.
Concept Map Example: Strategic
In this example, a concept map has been used to illustrate customer service goals. “Customer Service” is our core concept. It’s been broken down into multiple objectives:
Then, each of these objectives is further broken down.
This is a visual way to explain a plan. An approach like this could be particularly useful in business documentation and presentations. Imagine sharing an infographic like this with shareholders or members of a company to explain how a particular strategy is approached.
Concept Map Example: Organizational
This concept map breaks down organizational hierarchy in a visual way. In this scenario, let’s say this concept map illustrates the hierarchy in a single department. It starts at the top, with the department head, and then branches into different organizational segments.
A resource like this could serve many purposes. It could help illustrate a person’s role in larger team. It could also help further illustration who reports to who, and the order of how things are processed on the team. It could also help visually illustrate who handles what tasks, and how they might relate or even cross over.
2. How to Use a Concept Map
Let’s walkthrough the process of creating a concept map together. In this example scenario, we’ll use this Concept Map PowerPoint Template from Envato Elements. It makes it very easy to create a beautifully designed, professional looking concept map quickly and simply.
For our concept map, let’s visually break down the best content to include in a resume. We could use a concept map like this as an educational tool.
For example, maybe we’re teaching a class for new graduates who are preparing their first resume. Or maybe we’re working on our own resume—you could use a concept map to thoroughly list each aspect that should be addressed in your submission.
Let’s start at the beginning. The overarching concept here is “Building a Great Resume“. Again, I’m working in Microsoft PowerPoint, but you could use any software of your choice—in fact, you could even use a pencil and paper to create your concept map.
Then, we can break this down into a couple of different smaller concepts:
- research (surveying the job market, bookmarking opportunities)
- content (the information you’ll include)
- presentation (the design and format)
This is a good starting point for our concept map.
Notice how the content here has been arranged, and how they all branch from the core concept. Each of these pieces are a part of the larger subject at hand.
Then, we can break up these subtopics even further. For example, let’s check out the Content section. We would want a resume to include things like:
- contact info
- work history
- skill set
Notice how our concept map makes it easier to visualize the amount of content that’ll have to go into this project.
For example, under Contact Information, we could list what Contact Information will be included. Information like:
- an email address
- a website URL
- or a phone number
And as we build out our concept map, we’re given a bigger picture of the project at hand. Not only does this take the project and make its parts more visual—it can also be a great way to identify any potential gaps.
For example, perhaps in looking at our plan we realize that we need to add references. This could be something that applies in both our research and our content sections—because we’d need to contact and confirm references, and we’d need to include this information in our content.
And here’s our complete content map. This is just a simple example—you could push this much further if you wanted to! PowerPoint makes it easy to copy, paste, move, and edit items to create a nicely designed infographic.
This is just one possible way someone could use a Content Map—it could be used to explain so many different types of concepts, from academic to professional. Use them to plan out projects, use them to help explain complex subjects, and more.
Want to Learn More About Microsoft PowerPoint?
PowerPoint can be an amazing tool for concept mapping—but it’s also a great choice for presenting content like this too!
You can learn even more about working in Microsoft PowerPoint, right here, at Envato Tuts+. Why not check out these free tutorials today?
Download Infographics, Presentations, and More on Envato Elements
Working on a concept map, a presentation, or other professional project? Then you should check out Envato Elements. It’s an amazing resource for creative professionals. One low price gets you unlimited access to thousands of professionally designed assets.
Here are just a few of the ways Envato Elements can take your workflow further:
- Need an infographic? Envato Elements has you covered. Choose from thousands of graphics that you can customize any way you need.
- Creating a presentation? Download beautifully designed presentations in PowerPoint, Google Slides, and Keynote—just add your content and you’re done.
- How about graphics, fonts, and stock photos? Envato Elements has all that and more.
Take advantage of unlimited downloads today with Envato Elements. It really is the ultimate creative subscription.
Learn More About Presenting Ideas, Communication, and More
You can learn even more about presentations, business practices, communication, and more here at Envato Tuts+. Take a look at these articles today to help take your business skills to the next level.
Use Concept Mapping to Organize, Visualize, and Communicate Content
Concept maps are such versatile tools. You can use them in so many ways, across so many different fields. Use them as a learning aid or for project management. Concept maps can also be an amazing tool for managing knowledge too—keeping best practices up to date in a collective resource.
Now that you know about concept maps, how will you use them in your professional tasks?