The Theory of Concept Mapping

Concept mapping is a powerful visual thinking technique, commonly used in education, scientific study, engineering and in business. It is great for mapping out knowledge and communicating complex ideas. In this article, we will explore what a concept map is, the benefits and how you can use concept mapping software like Inspiration 10 to make them effectively.

Concept Map Example

What is Concept Mapping and its purpose

Concepts Mapping is designed to diagrammatically depict the suggested relationship between different ideas and concepts. Often written within circles or boxes and described using keywords, concepts are linked by words or phrases that explain the connection between these different ideas. This helps users to organize and structure their thoughts, to deepen their understanding and to discover new relationships.  Images can be used as supporting visual cues to help communicate ideas and understanding.

Concept map illustration

This approach differs from another popular visual learning technique; mind mapping, which focuses a user to one central concept or topic for optimal application of this technique.

Example Mind Map

The Benefits of Concept Mapping

Concept mapping allows  knowledge to be represented visually in a structured and hierarchical way and is a great way to explain complex ideas.

 For knowledge experts and instructors, this allows them to:

  • Model and analyse knowledge
  • Create new knowledge
  • Preserve knowledge
  • Transfer expert knowledge
  • Communicate complex ideas
  • Assess a learner's understanding  of a topic


For learners, it helps them to:

  • Map out prior knowledge and identify  gaps in knowledge/ understanding
  • Take notes; summarising key concepts, their relationships and its hierarchy during the research process
  • Model and analyse their knowledge on a topic as it evolves
  • Visually communicate their entire knowledge on a topic
  • Enhance their metacognition (learning to learn)
  • Retain knowledge

The development of Concept Mapping and its underlying theory

Joseph D. Novak and his research team at Cornell University developed the idea of the Concept Map as a means of representing the emerging science knowledge of students. Through the years it has popularly been  used as a tool to increase meaningful learning in the sciences and other subjects, as well as to illustrate the expert knowledge of individuals and teams

Novak's work is based on the cognitive theories of David Ausubel, who stressed the importance of prior knowledge in being able to learn (or assimilate) new concepts:

 "The most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows. Ascertain this and teach accordingly." Ausubel, D. (1968) Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View.

The Concept Mapping technique stems from 'constructivism' - the philosophy of knowledge.  The central plank behind the  Constructivism theory is that human learning is constructed and that learners build new knowledge upon the foundation of previous learning.

Creating Concept Maps with Inspiration

Inspiration 11's dedicated diagramming environment makes it the perfect concept mapping software. Specialist features and complete flexibility help users rapidly create digital concept maps with ease. This is supported with an extensive library of images and symbols to help communicate ideas. If a user would like to mind map, there is a dedicated mind map view as well. Once the concept map is created, with one click, it can be transferred into an outline, ready for exporting to Microsoft Word.

Additionally, Inspiration allows written and audio notes to be added to each symbol to explain concepts and supporting ideas in more detail, as well as being able to hyperlink to other documents or websites, for easy referencing to source material.

To learn more about concept mapping, click here.

Watch our video on concept maps here.

Creating concept maps digitally requires a flexible environment to represent information effectively. Inspiration 11 provides this and you can trial it for free for 30-days here.