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A Comparison between Concept Maps, Mind Maps, Conceptual Diagrams, and Visual Metaphors as Complementary Tools for Knowledge Construction and Sharing

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In this article, Novak's concept mapping technique is compared to three other types of visualization formats, namely mind maps, conceptual diagrams, and visual metaphors. The application parameters and the respective advantages and disadvantages of each format for learning and knowledge sharing are reviewed and discussed. It is argued that the combination of these four visualization types can play to the strength of each one. The article then provides real-life examples from such a use in undergraduate and graduate university teaching. The results provide first indications that the different visualization formats can be used in complementary ways to enhance motivation, attention, understanding and recall. The implications for a complementary use of these visualization formats in class room and meeting contexts are discussed and a future research agenda in this domain is articulated.
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Information Visualization (2006) 5, 202 --210
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A comparison between concept maps, mind
maps, conceptual diagrams, and visual
metaphors as complementary tools for
knowledge construction and sharing
Martin J Eppler1
1Faculty of Communication Sciences, University
of Lugano (USI), Lugano, Switzerland
Correspondence:
Martin J. Eppler, Faculty of Communication
Sciences, University of Lugano (USI),
Lugano, Switzerland.
Tel.: 058 666 45 12
Fax: 058 666 46 47.
E-mail: martin.eppler@lu.unisi.ch
Received: 8 February 2006
Revised: 31 March 2006
Accepted: 13 April 2006
Online publication date: 22 June 2006
Abstract
In this article, Novak's concept mapping technique is compared to three other
types of visualization formats, namely mind maps, conceptual diagrams, and
visual metaphors. The application parameters and the respective advantages
and disadvantages of each format for learning and knowledge sharing are re-
viewed and discussed. It is argued that the combination of these four visual-
ization types can play to the strength of each one. The article then provides
real-life examples from such a use in undergraduate and graduate university
teaching. The results provide first indications that the different visualization
formats can be used in complementary ways to enhance motivation, atten-
tion, understanding and recall. The implications for a complementary use of
these visualization formats in class room and meeting contexts are discussed
and a future research agenda in this domain is articulated.
Information Visualization (2006) 5, 202-- 210.doi:10.1057/palgrave.ivs.9500131
Keywords: Concept map; mind map; conceptual diagram; visual metaphor; concept
skeleton; complementary visualization
Introduction: concept mapping and the realm of qualitative
visualization methods
The extensive use of concept maps in class rooms and related learning
and knowledge sharing contexts (e.g. trainings, meetings, problem solving
discussions) has shown that numerous benefits can be achieved by apply-
ing visual mapping techniques that foster the graphic re-construction of
knowledge (see Novak1,2). Concept maps have demonstrated their posi-
tive effects on student learning for various topics and in various teaching
situations.3Concept maps (for a definition see Table 1 ) are, however, not
without drawbacks 1517 and they may not fit all types of target groups (such
as non-academics), learning tasks (i.e. developing procedural skills), appli-
cation situations (such as rapid note taking) or topics (such as processes or
developments over time). There are, in our view, several reasons for these
application restrictions: the relatively strict formal rules that need to be
adhered to when drawing a concept map and the emphasis on identifying
concepts (and their multiple relationships) do not make it a simple, seam-
less or very rapid visualization technique. In addition, the general top-down
(from concepts to examples) structure of concept maps may not be ade-
quate to represent or structure sequential content such as processes, time-
lines, or developments. The boxes and arrows format may also make it dif-
ficult to efficiently represent a great number of related items in an accessi-
ble format. Students or practitioners who are confronted with ready-made
A comparison between mapping methods Martin J. Eppler
203
Table 1 A comparison of concept maps, mind maps, conceptual diagrams, and visual metaphors
Format Parameters Concept map
(J.D Novak)
Mind map (T. Buzan)Conceptual diagram Visual metaphor
Sample thumbnail
representation
Definition A concept map is a
top-down diagram
showing the relation-
ships between con-
cepts, including cross
connections among
concepts, and their
manifestations
(examples)
A mind map is a multi-
coloured and image-
centred, radial diagram
that represents seman-
tic or other connec-
tions between portions
of learned material
hierarchically
A conceptual diagram
is a systematic
depiction of an abstract
concept in pre-defined
category boxes with
specified relationships,
typically based on a
theory or model
A visual metaphor is a
graphic structure that uses
the shape and elements of
a familiar natural or man-
made artefact or of an
easily recognizable activity
or story to organize con-
tent meaningfully and use
the associations with the
metaphor to convey addi-
tional meaning about the
content
Main function or
benefit
Shows systematic
relationships among
sub-concepts relating
to one main concept
Show sub-topics of a
domain in a creative
and seamless manner
Analyze a topic or situ-
ation through a proven
analytic framework
Organize content
meaningfully and con-
vey main message
about it
Typical application
context
Classroom teaching,
self study and revision
Personal note taking
and reviewing
Slide presentations,
text illustration, mana-
gement discussions
Text book illustration,
summaries, presenta-
tions to novices
Application
guidelines
Use it as a learning sup-
port tool for students,
that is, to summarize
key course topics or
clarify the elements and
examples of an abstract
concept
Use it for pre-analytic
idea jostles or rapid
note-taking, or to struc-
ture the main contents
of a course or topic
hierarchically
Use it to structure a
complex topic with the
help of pre-defined
categories
Use it to memorize
the key elements of a
method or concept by
placing them meaning-
fully within a fitting
graphic metaphor that
shares one or more
properties with the
topic
Employed graphic
elements
Boxes/bubbles with
text and labelled
connector arrows
Central topic bubble
and colored (sub-)
branches with text
above branches,
pictograms
Labelled boxes and
arrows with embedded
text (if needed: icons)
Text within visual struc-
ture, sometimes connected
through arrows
Reading direction Top-down Center-out Left to right or top to
bottom
Bottom-up (e.g. lad-
der), top-down (fun-
nel), in-out (wheel),
out-in (spiral)
Core design rules or
guidelines
Start with main
concept (at the top),
and end with exam-
ples (bottom, without
circles); boxes/bubbles
designate concepts,
arrows represent
relationships; include
cross-links among
elements
Start with main topic
(center) and branch
out to sub-topics,
employ pictograms and
colors to add addi-
tional meaning. Write
text above the branches
Label all boxes. Fill all
boxes with correspond-
ing text. Larger boxes
designate more
important information
Employ a visual
metaphor that has a
strong and clear main
association that is
related to the conceptual
domain that
is mapped. Use a
metaphor with clearly
detectable areas.
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A comparison between mapping methods Martin J. Eppler
204
Table 1 (Continued.)
Format Parameters Concept map Mind map (T. Buzan)Conceptual diagram Visual metaphor
(J.D. Novak)
Macro structure
adaptability
Flexible, but always
branching out
Somewhat flexible, but al-
ways radial
Fixed diagram shape Fixed metaphor shape
(variations regarding
elements)
Level of difficulty Medium to high Low Medium to high Low to medium
Extensibility Limited Open Limited Very Limited
Memorability Low Medium to high Low to Medium High
Understandability
by others
High Low Medium High
Typical software
package support-
ing the visualization
format
www.inspiration.com www.mindmanager.com www.visio.com www.lets-focus.com
complex concept maps may initially feel overwhelmed or
de-motivated by the complex web of relations.16
Concept mapping is also not the only available qual-
itative visualization technique that fosters learning or
knowledge sharing in a constructive and systematic man-
ner. There is a myriad of node-link mapping methods
from such diverse areas as psychology, computer science,
requirements engineering, or business administration.
Examples of such systematic methods that employ geo-
metric figures for items, activities or concepts, and arrows
for relationships are: cognitive mapping, mind mapping,
entity-relationship models, flow charts, Toulmin maps,
IBIS argumentation maps, semantic networks, swim lane
diagrams, clustering, UML diagrams, system dynamics,
evocative knowledge maps, soft system modelling, or
process event chains.46,1012,32 All of these methods re-
late (boxed, circled, or otherwise framed) items to others
through (labelled or unlabelled) arrows based on explicit
and sequential rules. Nevertheless, there are also mapping
methods that do not make use of the node-link paradigm.
Examples of such mapping methods are: Venn and Euler
diagrams, Robert Horn’s infomulas, radar charts, Zwicky’s
morphological boxes, Vee diagrams, knowledge cartogra-
phies, tree maps, 3D-cubes, S-curves, impact wheels, or
graphic facilitation.32,33 Rather than highlighting indi-
vidual items and their relationships, these visualization
methods focus on ‘the big picture’, that is, on an overall
structure to map or position information meaningfully.
In these methods, the overall graphic structure is usually
provided by a conceptual diagram, a visual metaphor or
a mix of the two.
Based on this premise, this paper examines the poten-
tial of complementary visualization4with regard to concept
maps, that is to say the combination of concept maps with
other visualization formats. This combined use of differ-
ent visualization methods should compensate for the lim-
itations of different individual mapping methods and en-
able a richer learning experience for students using the
methods either actively (in a drawing mode) or passively
(in a viewing mode).
Methods: systematic comparison along
application parameters and exploratory use cases
The domain of visual methods for learning and knowledge
sharing is a broad one and the diverse learning needs and
styles of students may make it necessary to use concept
maps only as one type of learning support tool among
others. Hence, it seems worthwhile to review the appli-
cation parameters and the relative advantages and disad-
vantages of concept maps, as they have been discussed
in the existing literature, and compare them to the appli-
cation benefits and parameters of other mapping meth-
ods. For this comparison, we have chosen one widely
used method, mind mapping,6and two less prominent
approaches, conceptual diagrams and visual or graphic
metaphors. Below, we briefly describe our understanding
of mapping approaches based on conceptual diagrams and
visual metaphors.
Aconceptual diagram 28 employs a graphic conceptual
framework to visually structure information or learning
content with the help of pre-defined categories. The cate-
gories are usually derived from a (domain-specific) theory
or model. Examples of such conceptual diagrams are Aris-
totle’s square of oppositions (visualized first by Boethius),
Stephen Toulmin’s argumentation diagram,7Michael
Porter’s five forces diagram,8Ishikawa’s 5M diagram,22 or
Kaplan and Norton’s strategy map.9All of these concep-
tual diagrams structure information visually with the help
of pre-defined (often theory-derived) graphic ‘containers’.
Visual metaphors 21,27 are graphic structures that use
the shape and elements of a familiar natural or man-
made artefact or of an easily recognizable activity or
story in order to use the typical associations to convey
additional meaning about the content. Examples of such
visual metaphors are tree depictions of science domains
(as in Diderot and D’Alembert’s famous Encyclopaedia),
iceberg depictions of explicit and implicit knowledge,
the visualization of a selection process by employing a
funnel picture, or the visualization of an IT architecture
as a temple structure with four pillars. Visual metaphors
can be powerful catalysts for knowledge transfer and
Information Visualization
A comparison between mapping methods Martin J. Eppler
205
learning as they support learners in connecting what
they already know (the properties of the metaphor do-
main) with new material (the domain unto which the
metaphor is being applied). Lakoff and Johnson 13,14 have
demonstrated that metaphors are at the core of our cogni-
tive abilities and can thus be used explicitly as cognitive
tools in learning. This is especially true when the power of
a metaphor is combined with the appeal and directness of
visualization.21 Nevertheless, visual metaphors also have
a number of potential disadvantages.23 Visual metaphors
can divert attention from their content,24 they can be
unfitting for certain contexts (they can be seen as too
playful), they can be manipulative and difficult to let go
of or switch,25 they can loose their benefit once they
have been (over) used, and they may overemphasize com-
monalities among things that are essentially different.26
The graphic formats discussed above are obviously not
the only visualization techniques that can be used to
foster learning, yet they provide a number of advantages
for knowledge construction that other, more complex
visualization methods – such as flow charts, cognitive
maps,10,11 loop or system diagrams – may not be able to
provide (i.e., reducing complexity, providing mnemonics,
and facilitating rapid group communication).
Besides the comparison of the application parameters
of concept maps, mind maps, conceptual diagrams and
visual metaphors (in order to highlight potential comple-
mentarities), another method that is employed in this pa-
per is the exploratory use of these methods in class room
teaching. Different real-life examples of such maps will
be shown to illustrate the benefits of combining various
mapping techniques sequentially during a course. The ex-
amples can also illustrate the potential drawbacks when
relying only on one mapping method.
Results and discussion: a comparative view of
mapping methods
In this section we present the results of the comparison
among the four approaches and the exploratory use of
complementary mapping in university teaching. In the
next section a synthetic table is presented and discussed
which compares the application parameters of the four
methods. An overview of the main advantages and disad-
vantages and a relative positioning (with regard to their
use) is derived from this comparison. Based on these con-
siderations a possible application sequence for teaching
and learning purposes is suggested. In the succeeding sec-
tion we present examples of the methods’ use in class-
room teaching.
A comparison between the four methods
regarding their application parameters
While Novak’s concept maps, Buzan’s mind maps, theory-
driven conceptual diagrams, and visual metaphors with
embedded text have a number of attributes in common
(such as the integration of text and image, the stepwise
completion and the rule-based approach), they never-
theless differ with regard to their specific benefits and
constraints. These differences are explored in Table 1.
It summarizes the key features and main application
parameters of all four methods. The first row of the table
provides a thumbnail representation of each format to
give an impression of the overall shape of the visualiza-
tion method. The second row contains a short definition
of the method. The three following rows position each
method in terms of its typical application (main benefit
or function, typical application context and application
guidelines). The next two rows specify the visual vocab-
ulary of the method in terms of the graphic elements,
their reading logic, and their use (guidelines). The rows
from ’macro structure adaptability’ to ’understandabil-
ity’ qualify the methods in terms of their flexibility and
complexity. These factors will be further discussed in a
subsequent table that focuses on the advantages and dis-
advantages of each method. The final row indicates one
possible software package for each format that can be
used to draw or use an electronic version of the method.
A first glance at the key features of the four visualiza-
tion methods reveals that their profiles are quite distinct:
whereas concept maps and mind maps are great per-
sonal learning tools that result in individual solutions,
conceptual diagrams and visual metaphors are tools for
knowledge communication and joint knowledge con-
struction. While mind maps and visual metaphors result
in attractive, colourful and memorable results, conceptual
diagrams and concept maps tend to be less memorable,
because most of them look very much alike – a collec-
tion of boxes and arrows (with occasional icons).These
generalizations do not apply to each and everyone’s use
of these formats; they nevertheless tend to follow the
advantages and disadvantages of the four formats as they
are discussed in the literature. Four main advantages and
disadvantages of each method are summarized in Table 2.
From these profiles we can generate a first tentative
positioning that can help us in using the four visualiza-
tion techniques in complementary ways or even com-
bine them into new visualization formats (as discussed
in the conclusion). One possible way of positioning the
four methods is by their ability to support the remember-
ing of learned content and whether they are more geared
towards personal or group use. Following this reasoning,
mind maps would be best used for in- class, personal note
taking, while concept maps should be used at home for re-
view purposes (also because they take longer to develop).
Conceptual diagrams can be used to develop concepts in
class, while visual metaphors are a good way of summa-
rizing them at the end of the class jointly with a greater
level of detail.
One important common feature that all four visualiza-
tion formats share (besides their common purpose of fa-
cilitating understanding), is that their electronic use allows
for the linking or embedding of related additional mate-
rial, such as other maps or diagrams, internet hyperlinks,
documents or pictures.1820 This opens the opportunity
Information Visualization
A comparison between mapping methods Martin J. Eppler
206
Table 2 Advantages and disadvantages of the four visualization formats
Format Concept map Mind maps Conceptual diagram Visual metaphor
Main advantages 1. Rapid information
provision15 1. Easy to learn and
apply61. Provides a concise
overview24 1. Serves as a mnemonic
aid (method loci)
2. Systematic, proven
approach to provide
overview15
2. Encourages creativity
and self-expression52. Structures a topic
into systematic
building blocks
2. Draws attention and in
spires curiosity
3. Emphasizes relation-
ships and connections
among concepts17
3. Provides a concise hi-
erarchic overview63. Assures that main
aspects are con-
sidered
3. Activates prior knowl-
edge about metaphor
domain13,25-- 27
4. Ability to assess quality
of concept map through
evaluation rules2
4. Easy to extend and
add further
content6
4. Can be applied to
a variety of situa-
tions in the same
manner
4. Facilitates understand-
ing by triggering func-
tional associations13
Main disadvantages 1. Not easy to apply by
novices; requires exten-
sive training17
1. Idiosyncratic, hard to
read for others
1. Can be difficult to
understand with-
out knowledge of
category mean-
ings
1. Cannot easily be
extended or modified
2. Concept maps tend to
be idiosyncratic17 2. Represents mostly
hierarchic relation-
ships6
2. May not be appli-
cable to the topic
at hand
2. May be misunderstood,
may trigger wrong asso-
ciations
3. Time consuming evalu-
ation through tutors17 3. Can be inconsistent 3. Does not provide
mnemonic help
3. Can be difficult to draw
(rapidly)
4. The overall pattern
does not necessarily
assist memorability
4. Can become overly
complex (loss of big
picture)
4. Does not foster
creativity or self-
expression
4. Can be manipulative or
misunderstood23
to use such maps as navigational aids to electronic learn-
ing content or simply annotate entries with additional
personal comments. The electronic use of these methods
also makes it possible to use the methods as ad-hoc collec-
tive maps in class rooms or meeting contexts via a laptop
and beamer. The conceptual diagram and the two visual
metaphors discussed in the next section have been used
in this way.
Application examples and experiences
As mentioned in the previous section, a complementary
way to use the four visualization methods uses concep-
tual diagrams for in-class concept development, hand-
written mind-mapping for in-class note taking, concept
mapping for personal student reviewing at home, and vi-
sual metaphors for joint in-class summaries. This didactic
logic is consistent with the relative advantages and disad-
vantages discussed in Table 2. Table 3 shows this didactic
approach which uses the four methods in a complemen-
tary way and describes their application.
This logic has been applied in two bachelor classes (on
knowledge management) and in two Ph.D. courses (on
research methods):
First, a special type of conceptual diagram has been used
to structure complex content during class presentations
(see Figure 1) and lectures. At the beginning of the session,
the diagram contained only the concept label, all other
boxes were interactively filled in with occasional contri-
butions from the students who had heard about the con-
cept previously. Figure 1 depicts the completed diagram
after approximately 20 min of discussion.
The picture depicted in Figure 1 is a specific type of
conceptual diagram (that we call concept skeleton) that
helps to explain the nature of an academic or abstract
concept. Its benefit can be described as follows: Whereas
Novak’s concept maps mainly serve the purpose of stu-
dent learning by having them list and connect various
concepts through explicit labels, the main function of a
concept skeleton is one of summarization and elicitation,
and these tasks only regarding one single concept at a
time: concept skeletons of this type thus help to transform
sketchy ideas into systematic thoughts. Consequently, we
define a concept skeleton as a one-page abstract diagram-
matic representation of an abstract concept, its label, def-
inition, elements, examples and implications, as well as
its kind. The depiction also includes pointers to related
concepts. A concept according to Novak 2is a mental im-
age of a thing or object. Our understanding of a concept
is a bit more focused: A concept in this context refers to
an elaborate abstract idea that has implications for action.
The concept skeleton’s elements can be characterized as
follows:
Concept name or label: A concise set of terms that gives
the concept a label by which it can be referred to.
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A comparison between mapping methods Martin J. Eppler
207
Table 3 A complementary use of the four methods based on their unique features
Didactic steps Applied visualization format Didactic application mode
1 Conceptual diagram A new concept is introduced step by step (or box by box) in the class room by filling
in an empty conceptual diagram that is completed iteratively and jointly.
2 Mind map During the subsequent explanations and further elaborations, the students take notes
by drawing personal mind maps.
3 Concept map To test their understanding and recall, the students are asked to develop a concept
map (at home) of the main contents and submit this map at the beginning of the next
lesson. They can use the introductory conceptual diagram and their own mind map
together a list of the key elements and then structure them using the rules of concept
mapping.
4 Visual metaphor In order to summarize the discussion on a topic in a memorable and insightful way,
a rich visual metaphor is used that positions all discussed items within an appealing
and self-explanatory metaphoric structure. This empty visual metaphor is given as a
hand-out to students who can then add the jointly discussed items into their personal
copy of the metaphor image.
Figure 1 A concept skeleton used to jointly develop the notion
of knowledge work in a bachelor class on knowledge manage-
ment (drawn with lets-focus.com).
Concept type,area and modality: These three sections indi-
cate the nature of the concept that is described. In terms
of type we distinguish whether the concept is a scientific
concept (such as a research construct) or a practical one
(such as an action principle) or both. The area describes
the topic domain to which the concept can be related to.
If the concept type is scientific this domain can be any
scientific discipline, such as biology, physics, or geogra-
phy. If the concept type is practical, then domain may
refer to an operational area, such as project manage-
ment, cooking, or architecture. The concept modality fi-
nally describes the nature of the concept’s claim: is it de-
scribing a goal one should strive for, then the label given
to the concept is normative, if it outlines the way some-
thing is actually done, it is descriptive, if it explains the
way something works it is explanatory, and if it outlines
a way to resolve a problem it is a prescriptive concept.
Related concepts: This box lists similar, but nevertheless
different concept labels that are closely related to the
outlined concept.
Concept definition: This box includes a few sentences
that define the key idea behind the concept. Typically
the definition also includes the key elements of the
concept that are then also isolated in the element boxes
below the definition box.
Elements: This section lists the different subconstructs
or subconcepts of the main concept.
The examples or manifestation boxes provide real-life
instances of the concept.
Implications: This section summarizes the practical con-
sequences of the concept or in other words how it
should be applied and used.
The main benefit of such a concise depiction of a concept
is that one can gain a systematic overview quickly and
not only describe the concept but also analyze it in terms
of its epistemic nature (i.e. its domain, goal, as well as the
strength of its claims).
After this initial discussion with the help of a concept
skeleton, detail content has been presented in a regular
lecturing style. For this phase, Mind maps have been used
for individual note taking during the class by the students
(the mind maps have not been collected). Several studies
have already highlighted the beneficial use of mind map-
ping for the purpose of note taking 2931 and Buzan devel-
oped the method with note taking in mind as an explicit
application area.5,6
In a third didactic step,Concept maps have been used as
take-home assignments, where 30 students needed to in-
dividually summarize a module of the class (on knowledge
work) with the help of concept mapping (see a sample
concept map submitted by a student in Figure 2).
In a fourth step, visual metaphors have been used to
structure in-class discussions with students systematically
and document a lesson in a memorable way (see Figure 3).
Information Visualization
A comparison between mapping methods Martin J. Eppler
208
Figure 2 A concept map drawn by a student as an assignment and review tool for a class module (from a bachelor class on
knowledge management, drawn with inspiration.com).
Figure 3 Whiteboard screenshot from an in-class jostle session on conducting literature reviews (conducted in a Ph.D. level seminar
class, drawn with lets-focus.com).
At the beginning of each summary lesson the (beamed)
visual metaphors only contained the labels of their
different zones (such as review goals, review problems,
review risks, etc.). Students were asked to propose goals
or problems which the tutor entered in the respective
area of the metaphor on the interactive whiteboard. The
Information Visualization
A comparison between mapping methods Martin J. Eppler
209
Figure 4 A mixed visual metaphor/conceptual diagram template to structure learning content in a narrative structure during a
class room discussion.
visual metaphor shows the status of the discussion after
a 40-min debate.
The preliminary results from these tests have been pos-
itive in the sense that students responded very favourably
to this mix of visual methods. After an initial distraction
due to the interactive whiteboard technology, the students
remained focused and attentive, more than they would
usually be in this type of discussion. The visual methods
have kept them engaged and gave them ownership of the
class content. In follow-up lessons, the discussed concepts
seemed to be remembered better than usual. The fact that
the students also asked for electronic copies of the jointly
devised visualizations is another sign of their interest. Fu-
ture follow-up studies should test these stipulated benefits
and they should show whether this assumed higher level
of attention, engagement and recall also translates into
better learning results (and this even after the ‘newness’
of the complementary visual approach has worn off). In
the current study, the course evaluation form and the fi-
nal exam were used to assess the satisfaction and learning
effects of the students, yielding positive results compared
to prior courses. In addition, an independent Ph.D. stu-
dent conducted half hour- to 1-h interviews with 14 stu-
dents of the class asking them about the experience with
the concept mapping assignment. The results of these in-
terviews showed that the students require a lot of time,
systematic assistance and feedback in order to devise high-
quality concept maps. They revealed that some students
had problems understanding the concept maps of others.
They also highlighted the fact that the students’ concept
maps did not incorporate many of the provided multime-
dia material because I did not discuss that material in de-
tail in class and I did not encourage them extensively to
use that material. Two-thirds of the students chose to draw
the concept map with mapping software inspiration.com
while one-third produced concept map posters or paper
versions. As a major benefit, the students mentioned that
they were able to check their understanding and learning,
to see new connections, and to repeat the key contents. In
future studies, a questionnaire on what the students have
specifically liked or disliked about all of the visualization
sessions and exercises will be issued.
Conclusion: towards a complementary use of
mapping methods
The systematic comparison of the four methods in terms
of their application parameters and their exploratory use
in teaching has shown that the combined, sequenced use
of the four methods can provide a number of benefits
that go beyond the possibilities of each individual method
alone. In future research these exploratory findings should
be examined using an experimental design with follow-up
surveys among participating students in order to measure
more accurately how the effects of the four methods differ.
Such experimental studies could also reveal differences
in student learning styles and a more adequate matching
with respective visualization methods. In this way, one
can analyze whether the additional cognitive load (and
additional time investment) resulting from teaching more
than one visualization technique has paid off in terms of
a sustainable learning effect.
Information Visualization
A comparison between mapping methods Martin J. Eppler
210
A different future research route is to develop mixed-
mode visualizations that combine the strong points of the
four methods, as for examples the straight forward rules
of concept maps, the clarity of conceptual diagrams, the
simplicity of mind maps, and the memorable richness
of visual metaphors. A first effort in this direction has
been made in Figure 4. It shows a conceptual, rule-based
diagram that employs metaphoric elements to make its
content more memorable. Yet such ‘hybrid formats’ are
probably limited in their application scope: they make
sense only for specific topics, as in this case a story
plot visualization for procedural knowledge (to teach
project management concepts). It is doubtful whether
such formats could ever compete with the simplicity and
application scope of concept maps or mind maps. Never-
theless, inventing such hybrid forms could also be a new
way to foster the visual literacy of students: Besides ap-
plying ready-made visualization techniques to learning
tasks, students could venture to create their own meth-
ods to represent and study learned content visually. They
could, for example, develop re-usable graphic templates
to be used by their peers in subsequent classes to struc-
ture key content of the class systematically. Related to
this topic is another future research question regarding
the differences between the software-based use of visual
methods, and their ‘analogue’ application using pen and
paper: Future studies should examine under which con-
ditions and for which relative benefits software-based
approaches (as the ones depicted in Figures 1–4) should
be used, and in which contexts simple pen-and-paper
methods may be superior. One obvious advantage of
the software-based approach is that it lends itself easily
to e-learning contexts where the visual methods can be
viewed or edited remotely by all learners via application
sharing.
Acknowledgements
Financing for this research has been provided by the Fondo
Tasso -- Foundation for Research and Development. I thank
Terry Inglese for conducting and transcribing the student
follow-up interviews.
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