Conceptual Maps vs Mind Maps: Understanding the Differences
Conceptual Maps vs Mind Maps: Understanding the Differences
From their origins, conceptual maps and mental maps have had a different path - not to say opposite. Their historical references, in fact, do not coincide because they are inspired by two scholars who operated in different years and ways.
Firstly, conceptual maps are inspired by the model created by Joseph Novak, developed in the 1990s to find a practical application of the cognitive theory of meaningful learning. In simple terms, he believed that schematizing individual words was a perfect tool to highlight and emphasize the foundational concepts of a study program.
Later, around the end of the 1990s, the London scholar Tony Buzan devised the innovative method of mind maps, attempting to schematically and finally graphically reproduce the process followed by our brain in forming thoughts. Not surprisingly, they can be applied not only to studying but also to everyday life, helping to bring clarity and linearity of understanding.
2. Appearance: nodes, arrows, colors, and images
The first substantial difference between conceptual maps and mind maps concerns their visual appearance. According to the initial model theorized by Novak, conceptual maps have a fairly rigid structure and are essentially composed of:
- Conceptual nodes, which are boxes of different shapes containing keywords or short phrases;
- Arrows that connect the conceptual nodes in a logical-hierarchical manner.
Sometimes text is also added to the arrows to connect the different nodes, perhaps with a proposition, an adverb, or a date. At least according to the initial model, conceptual maps did not involve the use of colors and images. However, today with the use of digital technology, conceptual maps can also contain multimedia elements.
Mind maps also use short keywords that branch out from a title. However, they have a much less rigid appearance than conceptual maps, for example, concepts do not necessarily have to be enclosed within nodes. In addition, mind maps make extensive use of many images and different colors for branches, seeking to also emphasize the evocative aspect of these visual elements. In this sense, images serve not only a descriptive purpose of the topic being discussed but also to stimulate memory.
3. Structure: tree vs radial
Just from their appearance, it is easy to understand that conceptual maps and mind maps have very different structures. The former are based on a "tree" structure, starting from a main concept at the top which then branches out into different cascading leaves. The latter, instead, have a "radial" structure (or wheel-like), with a central hub from which a series of connections emerge, even non-hierarchical, directly related to the core.
Example of a conceptual map about earthquakes with a hierarchical tree structure.
For this reason, when constructing the map, one must take into account the reference model being used. A very important element to consider is the role of the initial concept in the different structures: while in the conceptual map it acts as the starting trunk for subsequent branches, in the mind map it should be understood as a stimulus that generates different logical connections that are independent of each other.
An example of a mind map about health with a radial structure and various evocative images.
4. Construction: how to create conceptual and mind maps
A fundamental difference between concept maps and mind maps lies in how they are created starting from a blank sheet of paper, that is, the construction process.
To create a concept map, it is necessary to have clear in advance what the key concepts are to be developed in a logical-hierarchical manner, like the branches of a tree, and therefore a prior elaboration of the starting topic is necessary. Each child node will have a logical and hierarchical connection with its parent node. Starting from the title at the top, it should be possible, even for someone who did not personally create the map, to follow a logical reasoning by moving along a branch between nodes and their connectors.
To create a mind map, one proceeds by associations. In fact, mind maps are a graphical representation of associative thinking, designed to implement visual memory in a personal way. In fact, it could be very difficult to interpret and understand a mind map made by someone else. The elements of the map are dynamically inserted without a clear distinction between the moment of identifying the key concepts and the moment of their combination, as instead happens with concept maps.
To summarize, for a concept map, you should remember to prioritize identifying hierarchical relationships between key concepts, starting from the most general aspects (identifying the key concepts to be inserted in the nodes before writing them down) and then going into detail. For a mind map, on the other hand, you can indulge in your creative flow from the beginning. Starting from the central topic, you can insert the most useful mental connections for your memorization, and then proceed to a general screening.
5. Usage: different maps for different purposes
Just as the structures and stories of maps are different, so are the functions they can perform in the study and schematization phase. It could be said that concept maps are more useful during the assimilation of concepts, while mind maps express their maximum potential when it comes to processing and understanding the available material.
To go into specifics, concept maps are mainly used when one needs to learn and subsequently consolidate the content. They play an important role in analysis during the creation process itself, as they require synthesis and re-elaboration skills. Subsequently, they can be useful in developing an organic and linear oral presentation, highlighting the logical connectors that link various points of the studied topic.
On the contrary, mind maps tend to be used for creative study and the production of original and personal paths (precisely because they graphically mimic the appearance of neurons in our brain) - such as exam papers or presentations. For this reason, they are usually indicated as the most useful learning tools for transversal and interdisciplinary projects that go beyond the "watertight compartments" study method.
Concept maps and mind maps with Algor Education
One of the best tricks to make the most of concept maps and mind maps is to switch to their creation in digital mode. With the advancement of technology, teaching methods and the world of education have also made significant progress. Web apps and software for creating online concept maps accessible from PCs, tablets, or smartphones can bring various advantages that would otherwise be unattainable.
The web app Algor Education aims precisely at improving the study process with concept maps and mind maps, also thanks to new artificial intelligence technologies applied to text. Algor allows you to create, customize, and share concept maps and mind maps in a convenient multimedia environment, from scratch or thanks to the suggestions of its algorithms. Creating maps with Algor Education is easy and fast. The app allows you to add many elements (both graphics and text) and organize them in the graphical environment in a few steps. The web app offers two types of automatic layouts, tree or radial. You can switch between them with a simple click.
Maps can be created manually from ready-made templates or from your own digital documents. In addition, Algor Education is the only platform that allows you to automatically create concept maps, helping you to outline a long text or generate maps automatically from simple keywords.
Thanks to the real-time sharing function, Algor Education allows active remote collaboration, enabling the use of maps for group work and collaborative lessons, thus overcoming logistical limitations and providing a more engaging and accessible educational experience.
Article by Nina Komadina, content creator.