Concept Mapping for Meaningful Learning

 
September 2012
 
ETEC530 (Constructivist Strategies for e-Learning) required the exploration of theories of concept mapping for deep learning and use of concept mapping exercises to construct knowledge. A concept map is a visual presentation of the meaning that I develop of new information. In this case, it was new information about constructivist teaching and learning strategies acquired over a 12 week period, but the same exercise could apply to any learning of new knowledge.
 
Over the 12 weeks, I read materials, participated in discussion forums and group activities, and completed individual assignments. As the weeks progressed, I developed an increasingly deeper and more complex ‘picture’ of constructivist learning, seen by a sequence of concept maps produced in IHMC CmapTools software:
 

 
Learning Outcome
 
The outcome of the mapping task was identification and linkage of 8 key concepts of Constructivist Learning:

  • learning begins with situated cognition and an ‘active’ learning process
  • learning requires a strategy for conceptual reconstruction (the ‘Constructivist Instructional Model’ or the Predict-Observe-Explain Model are some examples)
  • learning requires strategically-designed activities that create ‘cognitive puzzlement’
  • learning requires inquiry, critical thinking, and supports of scaffolding, expert coaching or peer interaction to resolve cognitive puzzlement
  • learning reflects successful resolution of puzzlement and the accommodation of new knowledge
  • inherent in inquiry, critical thinking and conceptual reconstruction is learner metacognition
  • learning outcomes are assessed by self assessment, peer assessment, or teacher/expert assessment
  • learning is evaluated to measure the effectiveness of the overall learning strategy for achieving conceptual reconstruction

 
Theory
 
Research studies of concept mapping have proved that it can improve meaningful learning and help learners to learn independently (Chiou, 2008).
 
Concept mapping is a meta-cognitive strategy that enables learners to schematically represent information in long-term memory (Jacobs-Lawson & Hershey cited in Chiou, 2008). “When constructing a concept map, the focus is the relationships” (Chiou, 2008).

“When a concept map is organised in a hierarchical fashion, the more general and more inclusive concepts should be at the top of the map, with progressively more specific (and less inclusive concepts) arranged below them (Novak & Gowin, 1984). The hierarchical attribute of a concept map also makes meaningful learning proceed more easily as new concepts or concept meanings are subsumed under broader, more inclusive concepts (Novak & Gowin, 1984).” Chiou, 2008, p. 376.

According to White and Gunstone (1992), a concept map is an assessment tool. A concept map demonstrates learners’ knowledge of key concepts of a topic and how those concepts relate. It can serve as a course pre-test to elicit learners’ prior knowledge of a topic as well as an in-course activity to document individuals’ learning during the course. Concept maps can also be shared with peers to increase understanding of a topic. While concept mapping demonstrates learners’ ability to identify key concepts and their relationships, other assessment tools (e.g. tests) may be used to probe learners’ understanding of the details or rationale behind those concepts (White and Gunstone, 1992).
 
Conclusion
 
Concept mapping is evidence of the internal mental process of conceptual reconstruction. By drafting a concept map and refining that map over 12 weeks, I was able to see how my understanding changed and deepened week by week.
 
The ‘helicopter view’ of constructivist learning depicted in Map 4 (with its numerous concepts and relationships between those concepts) might not have been realised without doing concept mapping because mapping required me to identify and construct links between the concepts. Without a mapping task, I may have acquired constructivist teaching and learning concepts as piece-meal topics.
 
References
 
Chei‐Chang, Chiou. (2008). The effect of concept mapping on students’ learning achievements and interests, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 45:4, 375-387. Accessed at http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14703290802377240

White, R. & Gunstone, R. F. (1992). Probing Understanding. London: The Falmer Press, Chapters 2 & 3.

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