9 Great Concept Mapping Tools for Teachers and Students

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Concept mapping is a learning strategy that involves visualizing relations between concepts and ideas using graphical representations. It is a form of graphic organizer that consists of various circles or boxes (called nodes) each of which contain a concept and are all interlinked through linking phrases. The role of these linking phrases is to ‘identify the relationship between adjacent concepts’ (McClellan and Broggy, 2009).

As a learning tool, Concept maps were first introduced by Novak and his colleagues in Cornell University in the 70s of last century. Concept maps are based on Asubel’s theory of meaningful learning which states that “learning is meaningful when the student comprehends the relationship of what is being learned to other knowledge”(KILIÇ and ÇAKMAK, 2013, p. 154). In other words, meaningful learning “results when a person consciously and explicitly ties new knowledge to relevant concepts they already possess” (Stoica, Moraru, and Miron, 2010, p. 568). Some key pillars of meaningful learning include prior knowledge, interaction, and collaboration all of which are supported by concept mapping. However, a detailed discussion of the literature and theoretical base of concept maps is beyond the scope of this short post. To learn more about concept maps, their underlying theory and their uses in education, we recommend the reference list at the bottom of this post.

Below is a brief overview of some of the benefits and ways to use concept maps with your students. we have pulled out from reading some of the literature in this regard (please see reference list at the bottom).

Benefits of Concepts Maps for students
  • Provide students with nonlinear visual ways to understand, produce, and represent knowledge.
  • Help develop higher-order thinking skills including analytical skills.
  • Facilitate the recall and processing of information.
  • Help students externalize their knowledge and show their understanding.
  • Make explicit structural forms of knowledge and relationships between concepts and therefore enhance students comprehension.
  • They attend to different learning styles.
  • They engage students in meaningful learning activities.
  • They are effective organizational tools students can use to organize their knowledge.
  • Visual representations of knowledge is proved to both stimulate and increase brain activity (Marzono, 1998, cited in Birbili, 2006).
  • Boost social interaction, communication and collaborative team work.
  • They can be used in different content areas and with students from different grades.
Uses of Concept maps
Highlight the similarities and/or differences between concepts.
Display the sub-components of a concept.
Showcase the methodical steps involved in the development of a concept, event…etc.
Brainstorm ideas on a particular topic.
Formatively assess students knowledge during the learning process.
Use concept maps in summative assessments at the end of a lesson or course unit.

The traditional way of creating concept maps is through pen and paper, however, in today’s post we are highlighting the digital version of this activity. We are sharing with you a number of interesting web tools you and your students can implement in the creation of digital concept maps. The strength of digital concept mapping tools is that they provide users with much more flexibility and options to create dynamic and visually rich maps. Students can insert different shapes, symbols, pictures, links, clip arts into their maps.  Needless to mention the fact that digital concept maps are automatically saved and can be easily edited and accessed anywhere anytime.  Also, some concept mapping tools provide collaborative features allowing group of students to work on the same map in real-time.  Here are the tools we recommend to use in your class:

There is an infographic version of this post which you can access from this page.

1- Bubbl.us
A good tool for creating visually attractive concept maps. No software download required and maps you create can be saved as an image. It also supports different sharing and collaborative features.

2- Popplet
Another good tool students can use to create and share concept maps. It offers various features including: recording notes in different formats with text, images and drawings; link notes to each other; export your final work as PDF or JPEG; supports several languages and many more.

3- MindMup
Lets you ‘create unlimited mind maps for free, and store them in the cloud. Your mind maps are available everywhere, instantly, from any device.’

4- Creately
Offers tons of pre-designed concept map templates, supports group work, integrated with third party tools including Chrome Store and Google Apps. It also has this handy resource to help you better understand and use concept maps.

5- Coggle
Another useful tool for creating collaborative concept maps. ‘Coggle is an online tool for creating and sharing mind maps. It works online in your browser: there's nothing to download or install.’

6- MindMeister
‘MindMeister is an online mind mapping tool that lets you capture, develop and share ideas visually…MindMeister lets you share your mind maps with as many friends or colleagues as you want and collaborate with them in real-time.’

7- Lucidchart
You can use Lucidchart to design concept maps, flowcharts and different types of diagrams. It also support collaborative features and works across several devices. It also offers this handy resource to help you learn more about concept maps and how to use them in your class.

8- Mindomo
Excellent for creating mind maps, concept maps, outlines and many more. Its 'Presenter' feature lets students turn their maps into slide-by-slide presentations. Maps can embed videos, audio clips, and links. It also lets students search web images directly from the map and add them with a single click.

9- Spiderscribe
‘SpiderScribe is an online mind mapping and brainstorming tool. It lets you organize your ideas by connecting notes, files, calendar events, etc. in free-form maps. You can collaborate and share those maps online.’

3- Concept maps as a tool for meaningful learning and teaching in chemistry education (research paper by Mustafa KILIÇ and  Murset ÇAKMAK).
5- Concept maps (Reading Rockets).
7- Concept maps: Are they good for assessment? (Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching)
Education Students in an Irish University (research paper by Joanne Broggy and George McClelland).
9- Concept maps, a must for the modern teaching-learning progress (research paper by Ionana Stoica, Silvia Morary and Cristina Miron)
10- Ten Good Online Tools for Creating Mind Maps (Free Technology for Teachers)