A concept map is a way to visually display the relationships between different concepts, ideas, and pieces of information. Concept maps are hierarchical, with one main idea or focus question and several sub-topics, key concepts, and related ideas.
Although they look similar, concept maps are not the same as mind maps. Concept maps are generally more robust visualizations, with additional context and connections between ideas.
All concept maps have the features listed above, but there are variations in their implementation and arrangement. Here are four main types of concept maps and some tips on when to use them.
Spider maps, or spider diagrams, are a type of concept map that looks like a spider web. Your main idea or focus question goes in the center, with topics branching out radially. Spider maps work best when exploring various facets of one central concept. Some uses for spider maps include:
Use a flowchart to create a visual representation of a process or workflow. Flowcharts have a linear structure that naturally leads readers through the information step-by-step. Some common uses for flowcharts include:
Instead of relating all ideas back to a central concept, system maps focus on the relationships between ideas. They often lack a clearly defined hierarchical structure. System maps are often used to record and organize thoughts that interact within a defined environment or ecosystem, such as:
Hierarchy maps provide a visual representation of rank or position. In a hierarchy map, the main idea or highest-ranking concept is at the top of the map, with lower-ranking ideas flowing underneath. Some types of hierarchy maps you might be familiar with include:
Just as there are many types of concept maps, there are also many use cases for concept mapping. Concept maps make understanding complex, abstract ideas easier because users can visualize ideas and make physical connections among them by linking words, arrows, and lines.
Concept maps are useful for various projects across every industry—from individual study to corporate group brainstorming and beyond. Some common use cases for concept mapping include:
Concept maps are useful in learning environments because they help people organize and visualize information. They're a great teaching tool for educators and a great study tool for students. Some common uses for concept maps in education include:
Concept maps have become popular throughout the business world due to their visual and collaborative nature. Companies use concept maps to identify problems, brainstorm solutions, implement processes, and encourage innovation. Some ways to use concept mapping in business include:
Concept mapping is also a useful personal and professional development tool, as it helps people visualize their goals and explore opportunities. Concept mapping for individual development includes:
Concept maps are a great tool for idea exploration and visualization. Still, there are hundreds of ways to explore and visualize ideas—so what makes concept mapping better than other brainstorming methods and tools?
When trying to solve a problem, it's easy to get stuck on details and forget the bigger picture of what you need to accomplish. Concept mapping encourages you to zoom out and start with a broader perspective before diving into the details.
Many popular strategic planning tools and frameworks are based around written exercises, which can be tedious for visual learners. Studies also show that visualization can help with memory retention. Concept mapping is visual by nature, helping visual learners participate and thrive.
Concept maps provide a hierarchical framework and structure to organize ideas, breaking down complicated concepts into smaller pieces. Not only is this helpful as you generate ideas, but it makes it easier to present a large amount of information in a dynamic, connected way.
Although concept mapping can be a solo activity, it's great for idea generation within a team or group. Concept mapping helps teams synthesize ideas from diverse contributors who each bring their unique and valuable perspectives to the table.
Creating concept maps is easy. Start by identifying a concept or focus question at the top. Then, using lines and arrows, add information that flows from the focus. Follow these steps for making a concept map:
Select a focus question or main idea. That should be a broad concept with many subtopics to explore. This main idea will be at the top or center of your concept map and guide its hierarchical structure.
Example: What should we do for our next marketing campaign?
Key concepts are the first tier of information branching off from your main topic. These ideas can vary in specificity, and it helps to list them out in order of broadest to most detailed. This list of key concepts is your parking lot, a place to put ideas before organizing them in the concept map.
Examples: Marketing platform, audience, product, goal, social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Mailchimp
Begin to move key concepts from the parking lot to the concept map, starting with the broadest ideas that connect directly to your main idea. Use linking words to establish the relationship between different concepts.
Make sure your linking words make sense and add cross-links to connect concepts in different areas of your map.
Concept maps are dynamic and intended to grow as you generate more ideas. Feel free to edit or add to your concept map whenever you think of a new idea.
You can draw a concept map by hand or use concept map software designed specifically for creating visualizations. MindManager is a concept mapping tool that helps you turn ideas into plans and plans into action.
MindManager is an industry-leading collaborative concept mapping software with many features and benefits, including:
MindManager comes pre-installed with many templates. To use these templates:
A concept map is a way to convey concepts, ideas, and pieces of information visually. Concept maps help you understand the relationships between various ideas, see how concepts are connected, discover related concepts, and organize your findings logically and visually.
A concept map must visually display concepts and ideas in a hierarchical fashion. Most concept maps highlight one main idea and depict subtopics as boxes or circles connected with lines, arrows, and (or) linking words.
Although their structures look similar at first glance, there is a difference between a concept map and a mind map. Mind maps are a brainstorming tool with a radial configuration. Concept maps are hierarchical, with one main idea, multiple sub-topics, and linking words and phrases that provide additional meaning.
Concept mapping is a way to visually display and arrange ideas, helping you solve problems, create plans, and encourage new ways of thinking. Anyone can make a concept map to inspire creative thinking and problem solving—from students and teachers to project managers, business leaders, and beyond.
Ready to make a concept map? Try MindManager for free for 30 days, and start building concept maps right away with premade, customizable templates.