Mind & Concept Mapping

Study Skills: Mind Maps versus Concept Maps

There has been a substantial increase over the years in the use of techniques known as Mind maps or Concept maps. Both kinds of maps are similar in that they both show in visual form the links among several ideas or concepts (see Figures X & X1). However, there some differences.

Whereas Mind maps are diagrams in which word concepts are linked in very flexible ways around a central key concept and typically contain images and color; its relative, Concept maps are diagrams in which the links among general concepts (at the top of the diagram) and specific concepts (lower down) are shown.

Mind maps are more flexible and personal, and they are more likely than concept maps to contain images and color. In contrast, concept maps typically have general concepts at the top and more specific ones below.

Concept maps have been used far more than mind maps in medical education. A concrete example of a mind map is shown in Figure X, and a concept map in Figure X1.

Figure X: Mind Maps
map-map diagram
Figure X. Mind maps diagram
Figure X1: Concept Maps
map-map diagram
Figure X1. Concept maps diagram

As you can see, the interconnections among related concepts are shown. The concept are more organized in a more-or-less hierarchical way with more specific concepts appearing lower down in the diagram than more general ones.

There are several potential reasons why concept maps and mind maps might enhance learning.

  1. First, students need to be actively involved in the learning process to produce adequate maps.
  2. Second, the concepts are shown as having several links or associations to each other. This is arguably more realistic (and also easier to remember) than the linear presentation of information in texts.
  3. Third, concepts are typically reduced to one or two words within concepts and mind maps, extracting the essence of their meaning and ignoring trivial details.
  4. Fourth, mind maps (but not concept maps) provide striking visual images that may be easier to remember than conventional notes.


There is much evidence that concept maps are useful. Daley and Torre (2010) reviewed the evidence concerning the use of concept maps in medical education. The great majority of studies found medical students using concept maps showed an increase in meaningful learning, including improved integration of basic and clinical science information, and enhanced critical thinking abilities.

Many studies reviewed by Daley and Torre (2010) were limited in that they relied on student’s self-reports of the effects of concept or mind maps. A study by Farrand, Husain, and Hennessy (2002) was an exception in that they assessed medical student’s recall of factual knowledge from a 600-word text. Students trained in the mind-map technique recalled 10% more than those who used their normal study techniques.

In more recent research, Veronese, Richards, Pernar, Sullivan, and Schwartzstein (2013) compared tutorials for medical students in which concept maps were or were not used. Students who used concept maps were better at integrating knowledge of physiological concepts and at identifying gaps in their knowledge. These beneficial effects lasted—students in the concept map tutorials had superior final examination scores to those not using concept maps.

Are there individual differences in the effectiveness of mind or concept maps?

Most of the available evidence suggests there are only small individual differences. For example, Laight (2004) found that the self-reported usefulness of concept maps did not vary across students having a range of different learning styles. However, Budd (2004) argued that individual differences in learning styles can help to explain why many students do not seem to be very motivated when using mind maps.

Those students favoring a “doing” learning style felt they learned a lot from using mind maps and rated the use of mind maps as highly as lectures. In contrast, students preferring a “thinking” learning style were less sure about the value of mind maps, and rated lectures much more favorably than the use of mind maps.

As we have seen, one of greatest advantages of concept maps is that they increase student’s ability to integrate information coherently. As a result, the beneficial effects of using concept maps should be especially large in problem-solving exams that require such integration. Gonzàlez, Palencia, Umaňa, Galindo, and Villafrade (2008) tested the hypothesis in a study on medical students. The use of concept maps enhanced performance in a problem-solving exam but failed to do so in a multiple-choice exam.