Just like neurons connect thoughts through electrical impulses, concept maps connect ideas through links.
This parallel with the way the brain works — going from one thought to another — is exactly what makes concept maps such an effective learning tool. Simply put, learning comes much easier when you’re building on what you already know.
But do you know how to make a concept map?
I imagine that’s why you’re here! Let’s dig into this topic in more depth, including how to create a concept map, tips to make the best map and examples to help you along the way.
Click to jump ahead:
- What is a concept map?
- 7 tips to create concept maps like a pro
- How to create a concept map with Venngage in 5 simple steps
- FAQ about concept maps
What is a concept map?
A concept map is a diagram that depicts the relationships between ideas using nodes, links and linking words. A node is a circle or square that contains a concept, while a link is a line or arrow that connects said nodes. Meanwhile, linking words add context by describing the relationship between nodes.
A concept map can help you understand and learn new information, organize and recall facts, visualize strategies, simplify complex thoughts and generate brand new ideas. Check out this article for more on the many benefits of concept mapping.
In a learning environment, there are several reasons why you might use concept mapping:
- Concept mapping can help learners organize information and visualize the relationship between ideas.
- By organizing information in a concept map, learners actively construct new knowledge, which helps with long-term retention.
- Visualizing strategies, or even, projects in a concept map is a great way to identify any missing connections and/or resource gaps.
- Laying out a series of key concepts visually can help convey a complex system or process in an easy-to-understand way.
- Concept maps are excellent brainstorming tools — they can kick-start discussions and inspire fresh perspectives.
The example below explains how sound travels. Notice how the designer uses a wave pattern to illustrate the concept of “sound”, making this map especially memorable:
Here’s a simple concept map example that illustrates different parts of a plant. Again, notice how the designer emphasizes the topic with visual elements — the color scheme and the different tree illustrations:
Beyond learning environments, businesses can benefit from concept maps in many ways. These maps can help with everything from visualizing the different factors that go into the product development process to getting a holistic view of a company’s operations and strategies.
On board? Great, let’s go over some simple tips to help you get the most out of concept mapping. Then, we’ll dig into the how of it all.
7 tips to create concept maps like a pro
Building a concept map isn’t like playing softball — there are no hard and fast rules to follow. But here are a few tips to help you build the best maps possible:
- Start with a focus question. Take your key concept and try to make it into a question. This will help you define the problem and solve it accordingly.
- Create a parking lot for your ideas. Instead of adding ideas right into your map, start by listing them all out on the side. Then, you can put that list in order of importance and add items to your concept map from least to most important. This will help ensure your end product is organized and comprehensive.
- Make use of linking words. Go beyond arrows and add linking words to your concept map to describe relationships, like cause and effect, sequences or simply associations. Take the template below, for example. It clearly describes each step in the protein synthesis process with the help of linking words, in addition to nodes and links.
- Stay focused. If you’re having trouble adding a concept from your parking lot into your map, it may not be focused enough. That is, it may go beyond the scope of the main concept you’re trying to map out. Stay focused by cutting these outlying concepts from the final product.
- Get descriptive. Don’t be afraid to use a little more text if a concept or link calls for it. Being as descriptive as possible when creating your map will help others understand it down the road. If your map is for learning, this point is especially key. Here’s an example of a descriptive map that’s easy to understand (and learn from!):
- Ask for feedback. It goes without saying, a second pair of eyes is always helpful. Share your concept map with a colleague or team member and get their feedback. Ask them specifically whether your concept map is A) correct, B) clear and C) complete.
- Revisit and revise. A concept map isn’t a one and done exercise. These maps are meant to be dynamic. As you learn more about a topic or reflect on a strategy, come back to your map and make edits. This will help reinforce any new knowledge you gain. Take the following concept map template, for instance. There’s plenty of space to add details under each topic:
How to create a concept map with Venngage in 5 simple steps
Now for the good stuff: how to actually make concept maps. With Venngage, all it takes is five simple steps:
- Register for a free account here. Note, Venngage offers many templates for free users, but some templates require you to upgrade to a Premium or Business account.
- Click on Templates from your dashboard or Home.
- In the left panel under Categories, click on Mind Maps, then Concept.
- Choose from one of the many templates available and click on Create to customize it in Venngage’s user-friendly, drag-and-drop visual editor.
- You can download and save your concept map on your device as a PNG, PNG HD or PDF with a Premium account. If you have a Business account, you’ll also be able to download files as Interactive PDFs, PowerPoints or in HTML format. If you’re on a free account, you’ll be able to share a public link, but you won’t be able to export.
FAQ about concept maps
What is the first step in creating a concept map?
The first step is to decide on a topic or subject and turn it into a focus question. This will help you better define the problem or topic at hand. Next, you should create a parking lot with all the key concepts you can think of and organize them by importance. Then, you’ll have everything you need to populate your concept map.
What is a concept map used for?
Concept maps are useful for acquiring new knowledge, organizing information, generating related ideas, problem-solving, strategizing, and much more. They’re especially useful for learning and development (L&D) professionals, product managers, technical writers, software developers and business leaders.
What is an example of a concept map?
The following concept map example visualizes the relationship between different non-profit topics. Each idea or concept leads to more relevant details and the map demonstrates the direction of relationships via arrows. Other concept map examples may describe relationships along the links themselves.
How can I make a concept map in Microsoft Word or Microsoft PowerPoint?
There are a few ways to create concept maps in Microsoft Word or PowerPoint:
- You can use the built-in shapes to create your concept map. This is a good option if you want to keep it simple.
- You can also use text boxes to construct a concept map. This allows for more flexibility in terms of design and layout.
- Another option is to create a diagram using the SmartArt feature. This may result in a more organized-looking map.
Though these options may work in a pinch, building a concept map in Word or Powerpoint is a cumbersome process. With Venngage’s drag-and-drop visual editor, the design process is much easier — even if you’re not a graphic designer. Just start with a template and customize it to suit your needs!
Ready to start concept mapping?
Whether you’re an L&D professional or work in some other capacity, there are many reasons to add concept maps to your arsenal.
Organizing information, supporting learning, generating ideas… the list goes on!
Of course, there are also many options for designing these maps. While I’m definitely biased, my favorite option is by far Venngage. Our Concept Map Maker isn’t too complicated and it isn’t too basic — it’s just right. Paired with our selection of professionally-designed templates, you’ll be mapping away in no time.