The Key Differences Between Concept Maps and Mind Maps: Which One is Right for You
Often the terms "concept map" and "mind map" are used as synonyms: after all, they are graphic tools used for synthesis and assimilation of concepts, visually similar and extremely useful for studying. Despite this, the two types of maps hide substantial differences, knowledge of which can allow you to use them better and more consciously.
From their origins to the final graphic effect, let's break down one by one the distinctive characters and differences between concept maps and mind maps. We will see the 4 main differences between concept maps and mind maps and focus on which type may be more suitable for you by suggesting a digital tool to create them in a few clicks:
A historical journey of two opposing methods
Since their origins, concept maps and mind maps have had a different path - if not opposite. Their historical references, in fact, do not coincide, because they take inspiration from two scholars who have worked in distant years and methods.
First of all, concept maps are inspired by Joseph Novak's model, developed in the 90s to find a practical application of the cognitive theory of meaningful learning. In simple terms, he believed that the schematization of individual words was a perfect tool to enhance and underline the foundational concepts of a study program.
Later, around the late 90s, the London scholar Tony Buzan devised the innovative method of mind maps, trying to reproduce in a schematic and finally also graphic way the process followed by our brain to form thoughts. Not surprisingly, they can be applied not only to study but also to everyday life, helping to restore clarity and linearity of understanding.
Concept maps vs. mind maps
The first substantial difference between concept maps and mind maps concerns the visual aspect. According to the initial model theorized by Novak, concept 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 conceptual nodes in a logical-hierarchical way.
Sometimes text is also inserted on the arrows to link the different nodes, perhaps with a proposition, an adverb, or a date. At least according to the initial model, concept maps did not involve the use of colors and images. However, today with the use of digital tools, concept 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 concept maps, for example, concepts do not necessarily have to be enclosed within nodes. In addition, mind maps make extensive use of many different images and colors for the branches, trying to push also on the evocative aspect of these visual elements. In this sense, images do not only have a descriptive purpose of the topic being discussed, but they serve mainly to stimulate memory.
Understanding the fundamental differences in structure
From the appearance alone, it's easy to understand that concept maps and mind maps have very different structures. The former is based on a "tree-like structure", starting from a main concept at the top that then branches out into different cascading leaves. The latter, instead, has a "radial structure" (or a hub-and-spoke structure), with a central fulcrum from which a series of even non-hierarchical connections spring directly linked to the core.
For this reason, when building a map, the starting model to which one refers must be taken into account. A very important element to consider is the role of the initial concept in the different structures: while in the concept map it serves as the starting trunk for the subsequent branches, in the mind map it must be understood as a starting point that generates different autonomous logical connections among them.
Understanding the fundamental differences in creation process
A fundamental difference between concept maps and mind maps lies in how they are created from a blank sheet, that is, the construction process.
To create a concept map, it is necessary to have clear in advance which are the key concepts to be developed in a logical-hierarchical way 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 those who have not personally created the map, to follow a logical reasoning by moving along a branch between the nodes and their connectors.
To create a mind map, you proceed by associations. In fact, mind maps are precisely a graphic 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 inserted dynamically without a clear distinction between the moment of identification of the key concepts and the one that consists in their combination, as instead happens for concept maps.
To summarize, for the concept map you will need to remember to give priority to identifying hierarchical relationships between key concepts, starting from the most general aspects (identifying the key concepts to be included in the nodes before writing them down) and then descending into the details. For the mind map, on the other hand, you can indulge in your creative flow right from the start. Starting from the central topic, you can insert the most useful mental connections for your memorization, and then proceed with a general screening.
Unlocking the power of concept maps and mental maps for effective learning and understanding
Just as the structures and stories of maps differ, so do the functions they can perform during the study and schematization phase. It could be said that concept maps are more useful during the assimilation of concepts, while mental maps express their maximum potential when it comes to elaborating and understanding the available material.
To be more specific, concept maps are mainly used when learning and subsequently consolidating content. They play an important role in analysis during the actual creation, as they require synthesis and re-elaboration skills in themselves. Subsequently, they can be useful in developing an organic and linear speech, highlighting the logical connectors that link the various points of the studied topic.
On the contrary, mental maps tend to be used for creative study and production of original and personal paths (precisely because they graphically mimic the appearance of neurons present in our brain) - such as exam papers or presentations. This is precisely why they are usually indicated as the most useful learning tools for transversal and interdisciplinary projects, which go beyond the "watertight compartments" study method.
Algor education's ai technology and real-time sharing
One of the best tricks to make the most of concept and mind maps is to switch to their creation in digital mode. With the advancement of technology, in fact, teaching methods and the world of education have also taken significant steps forward. Web apps and software for creating online concept maps accessible from PC, tablet or smartphone can lead to several advantages otherwise unattainable.
The web app Algor Education focuses precisely on improving the study process with concept and mind maps, also thanks to new artificial intelligence technologies applied to text. Algor allows creating, customizing and sharing concept and mind maps in a convenient multimedia environment, starting 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 graphic and textual) and organize them in the graphic environment in a few steps. The web app offers two types of automatic layouts, tree or radial. You can switch from one to the other 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 create concept maps automatically, helping you to schematize a long text or to generate maps automatically from simple keywords.
Thanks to the real-time sharing function, in fact, Algor Education allows active exchange even at a distance, allowing you to use maps for group work and collaborative lessons, thus breaking down logistical limits and providing a more stimulating and accessible educational experience.
Article by Nina Komadina, content creator.