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Concept Mapping. Dr. Idna M. Corbett West Chester University. Ausubel’s Theory. David Ausubel is a psychologist who advanced a theory which contrasted meaningful learning from rote learning.

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Concept Mapping

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Concept Mapping

Dr. Idna M. Corbett

West Chester University

Ausubel’s Theory

  • David Ausubel is a psychologist who advanced a theory which contrasted meaningful learning from rote learning.

  • Ausubel’s theory is involved with how individuals learn large amounts of “meaningful” material from verbal/textual lessons in school, as opposed to theories of learning developed in laboratories.

  • Ausubel’s subsumption theory contends that “the most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows” (Ausubel, 1968).

  • According to Ausubel, a primary process in learning is subsumption in which new material is related to relevant ideas in the existing cognitive structures.

  • Ausubel proposes an instructional mode using advance organizers. He emphasizes that advance organizers are different from overviews and summaries which simply emphasize key ideas and details in an arbitrary manner. Organizers act as a “subsuming bridge” (Ausubel, 1963) between new learning material and existing related ideas.

Corbett, 2004

Meaningful Learning Contrasted with Rote Learning

  • Rote Learning

    • Arbitrary, verbatim, non-substantive incorporation of new knowledge into cognitive structure.

    • No effort to integrate new knowledge with existing concepts in cognitive structure.

    • Learning not related to experience with events or objects.

    • No affective commitment to relate new knowledge to prior learning.

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  • Meaningful Learning

    • Non-arbitrary, non-verbatim, substantive incorporation of new knowledge into cognitive structure.

    • Deliberate effort to link new knowledge with higher order concepts in cognitive structure

    • Learning related to experiences with events or objects.

    • Affective commitment to relate new knowledge to prior learning.

Corbett, 2004

Novak’s Concept Mapping Technique

  • The concept mapping technique was developed by Joseph D. Novak at Cornell University.

  • Novak concluded that "Meaningful learning involves the assimilation of new concepts and propositions into existing cognitive structures".

  • Novak’s work was based on the theories of Ausubel.

  • Novak and Gowan (1984) have developed a theory of instruction that is based on Ausubel's meaningful learning principles that incorporates "concept maps" to represent meaningful relationships between concepts and propositions.

Corbett, 2004

  • A cognitive map is a “kind of visual road map showing some of the pathways we may take to connect meanings of concepts.”

  • According to Novak and Gowan, concept maps should be hierarchical.

  • The more general, more inclusive concepts should be at the top of the map, and the more specific, less inclusive concepts at the bottom of the map.

Corbett, 2004

What is concept mapping?

  • Concept mapping is a technique for representing knowledge in graphs.

  • Knowledge graphs are networks of concepts.

  • Networks consist of nodes and links.

  • Nodes represent concepts and links represent the relations between concepts.

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  • Concepts and links are labeled.

  • Links can be non-, uni- or bi-directional.

  • Concepts and links may be categorized. They can be

    • simply associative,

    • Specified, or

    • divided in categories such as causal or temporal relations.

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Purposes of Concept Mapping

  • to generate ideas (brain storming, etc.)

  • to design a complex structure (long texts, hypermedia, large web sites, etc.)

  • to communicate complex ideas

  • to aid learning by explicitly integrating new and old knowledge

  • to assess understanding or diagnose misunderstanding

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Concept mapping as a student learning tool

  • To learn course material

    • Students can use concept maps to take class notes.

    • Students can use concept maps to organize class notes or course material.

  • To integrate course content

    • Students can use concept maps to connect material learned throughout the semester.

  • To integrate material across different courses

    • Often students fail to see the relationship between different classes that they have taken.

    • Concept mapping can foster a student's understanding of how different courses relate if they map the prominent concepts from different courses that they have taken (e.g. compose one map of terms from a statistics class and a research design class).

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  • To assess their own learning. Concept maps can be used to assess changes and growth in the students' conceptual understanding as a result of instruction received in the course.

    • Learning can be evaluated before a course begins (to evaluate students' prior knowledge), during the semester (to evaluate changes in the students' knowledge), and/or at the end of the semester (to evaluate the students' knowledge after all course material has been covered).

    • Concept maps can be used to evaluate changes in learning over time and to evaluate end of course knowledge.

  • A concept map can provide feedback to the student so that s/he can check her/his understanding of the material to see if any connections are missing.

Corbett, 2004

1. Identify the important terms or concepts that you want to include on your map

  • There are three strategies to identify important concepts to include concepts on a concept map:

    • An instructor generated list and students are not permitted to add their own concepts

    • An instructor generated list but the students are allowed to add their own concepts to the list

    • An entirely student-generated list of concepts on a particular subject

  • For novice concept mappers, it is probably best to have the terms provided.

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2. Arrange concepts in a pattern that best represents the information

  • One can choose to use a hierarchical or non-hierarchical structure.

  • The use of hierarchical or non-hierarchical maps may have different benefits in terms of pedagogy and assessment.

  • Novice mappers may want to create their concept maps using post-it notes so that they can easily change the location of any concept before a final version is constructed.

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3. Use circles or ovals to enclose an important term or concept within the topic

  • Each circle or oval should enclose only one term or concept. However, terms can be more than one word.

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4. Use straight lines with arrows (single or double-headed) to link terms that are related

  • Each line should link only two concepts.

  • However, there is no limit to the number of links stemming from any one term.

  • Pay close attention to the direction of the arrowheads on the linking lines when labeling them.

  • Each concept is defined by its relation to other concepts within the topic. Relations include: superset, subset, attribute, part-whole.

Corbett, 2004

Important term

Important term

Important term

Important term

5. Use a word or phrase of words as labels along the lines to designate the relationship between two connected terms

  • Each line should have a label that describes the relationship between the two terms it connects.

  • Example:

relationship link

relationship link

feedback loop link

mutual relationship link

mutual relationship link

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Examples of concept maps

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How to make concept mapping a fruitful exercise

  • Students need to producing maps; the more they do it, the better they’ll understand the process.

  • Begin with a simple topic, using a small number of concepts.

  • Work through example(s) with the group, modifying the map where necessary – using post-it notes can help to develop confidence and facilitates changes.

  • Emphasize importance of thinking about all possible links.

  • Emphasize importance of writing down the nature of the links.

  • Emphasize that there is no single “correct” answer; often more than one appropriate link.

  • Emphasize importance of using arrows and their direction in describing the proposition.


Corbett, 2004


  • Ausubel, David P. (1968). Educational Psychology, A Cognitive View. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc. Ausubel, David P. (1967). Learning Theory and classroom Practice. Ontario: The Ontario Institute For Studies In Education.

  • Ausubel, David P. (1963). The Psychology of Meaningful Verbal Learning. New York: Grune & Stratton.Angelo, T. A. and Cross, K. P. Classroom Assessment Techniques, A Handbook for College Teachers (2nd ed., p. 197). Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1993.

  • Jonassen, D.H., Beissneer K., and Yacci, M.A. (1993) Structural Knowledge: Techniques for Conveying, Assessing, and Acquiring Structural Knowledge. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

  • Novak, J.D. (1991) "Clarify with Concept Maps: A tool for students and teachers alike," The Science Teacher, 58 (7), pp. 45-49.




  • Use of concept maps in teaching:

Corbett, 2004

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