Concept Mapping: Organizing and Representing Knowledge

Do you need a tool to support collaborative knowledge elicitation? Do you want an instrument that can help individuals create, organize, and represent or describe their thoughts and ideas? Need something that will capture the experiences and knowledge of experts? Then, the Concept Mapping technique might be the tool you need.

What exactly is Concept Mapping?

Concept Mapping, developed in the 1970’s by Joseph D. Novak and his research team at Cornell University, is a knowledge elicitation methodology as well as a technique for organizing and visually representing expert knowledge. Many individuals and teams are able to paint a picture of complex ideas through the use of Concept maps (Cmaps). Cmaps are two dimensional diagrams that facilitate the visualization of domain concepts and the linkages and/or relationships among them.

How can Cmaps be used?

There are many ways Cmaps can be used and it mainly depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Here are a few suggestions for individuals in the field of research and development:

  1. Knowledge Management Tool – use Cmaps to capture and record the knowledge of experts, for example, before their retirement in the U.S. Army.
  2. Compare and Contrast Information– use Cmaps to identify differences from novice and expert representations.
  3. Organize Data Sets – use Cmaps as a representation of data. Concept maps prove effective in organizing and navigating through large, rich data sets.

At CPG, we employ concept mapping as a technique in our CTA toolkit. The technique supports collaborative knowledge elicitation with the domain experts we interview, and it facilitates assessment efforts by enabling comparisons of domain knowledge across individuals.

What are the advantages of using Cmaps?

Cmaps is a tool that allows users to not only identify concepts (or ideas) but to also demonstrate the relationship between concepts. Some advantages of using Cmaps are that it

  1. Can help learners to become more actively involved in identifying central ideas, relating them to each other in meaningful ways;
  2. Can force learners to identify connections among ideas and apprehend them more deeply than other traditional approaches;
  3. Can consciously or subconsciously integrate new ideas with a learners existing knowledge; and
  4. Can ease the burden of short term memory since the information is identified and stored using Cmap software programs.

Where is the Cmap software program accessible?

splash2IHMC Cmap Tools –This FREE software for building concept maps is available to download provided by the Florida Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC).

The program “empowers users to construct, navigate, share and criticize knowledge models represented as concept maps.” This how-to video below takes you through the use of Cmap tools and some of its features.

What resources are available?

Moon, B. M., Hoffman, R. R., Novak, J. D., & Cañas, A. J. (Eds.). (2011). Applied concept mapping: Capturing, analyzing, and organizing knowledge. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis Group.

Moon, B., Ross, K., & Phillips, J. (2010). Concept map-based assessment for adult learners. In J. Sánchez, A. J. Cañas & J. D. Novak (Eds.), Concept Maps: Making Learning Meaningful. Viña del Mar, Chile: University of Chile.

Novak, J. (1990). Concept mapping: a useful tool for science education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 27(10), 937-949

Novak, J. D., & Cañas, A. J. (2008). The theory underlying concept maps and how to construct them. (Technical Report IHMC CmapTools 2006-01 Rev 2008-01). Pensacola, FL: Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.


Special thanks to Brian Moon, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Perigean Technologies, for providing the workplace sectors, domains, and applications Cmap. For more helpful information about the Concept Mapping technique, read his book, Applied Concept Mapping: Capturing, Analyzing, and Organizing Knowledge.


About the Author:


Cognitive Performance Group, LLC is a woman-owned small business with offices in Orlando, Florida, and Cleveland, Ohio. It was founded by Dr. Karol G. Ross, Jennifer K. Phillips, and William A. Ross. The three CPG Principals developed the concept for a company to support cognitive performance improvement in industry and government. (more...)

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