Open Access Open Access  Restricted Access Subscription Access

Online concept maps in medical education: Are we there yet?

Veronica Ho, Gary Velan


Background: Concept maps are widely used in education to promote meaningful learning, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Such maps are of particular interest within medical education because concept mapping is a form of active learning, which can foster the life-long learning medical students require to manage an ever- increasing body of knowledge.

Issues: Despite these benefits, the introduction of concept maps in curricula can often be met with resistance. To overcome this obstacle, providing varying levels of guidance, i.e., scaffolded versus self-constructed concept maps, may be more suited to novice and experienced students, respectively. Furthermore, immediate feedback (known to enhance student learning and motivation) is difficult and time-consuming to provide.

Conclusions: As such, future research into concept mapping would benefit from the development and validation of automated tools for their assessment. Although concept maps are effectively utilised within limited contexts in medical education, consideration of how they can be most effectively employed is needed. 


medical education; medical students; computer-assisted instruction; review

Full Text:



All, A. C., Huycke, L. I., & Fisher, M. J. (2003). Instructional tools for nursing education: Concept maps. Nursing Education Perspectives, 24(6), 311–317.

Anohina-Naumeca, A., Grundspenkis, J., & Strautmane, M. (2011). The concept map-based assessment system: Functional capabilities, evolution, and experimental results. International Journal of Continuing Engineering Education and Life Long Learning, 21(4), 308–327.

Ausubel, D. P. (1968). Educational psychology: A cognitive view. New York, NY: Holt, Reinhart & Winston.

Canas, A. J., Coffey, J. W., Carnot, M. J., Feltovich, P., Hoffman, R. R., Feltovich, J., & Novak, J. D. (2003). A summary of literature pertaining to the use of concept mapping techniques and technologies for education and performance support. Pensacola, FL: The Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.

Chang, K. E., Sung, Y. T., & Chen, S. F. (2001). Learning through computer-based concept mapping with scaffolding aid. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17(1), 21–33. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2001.00156.x

Chen, H. H., Chen, Y. J., & Chen, K. J. (2013). The design and effect of a scaffolded concept mapping strategy on learning performance in an undergraduate database course. IEEE Transactions on Education, 56(3), 300–307.

Cline, B. E., Brewster, C. C., & Fell, R. D. (2010). A rule-based system for automatically evaluating student concept maps. Expert Systems with Applications, 37, 2282–2291.

Daley, B. J., Shaw, C. A., Balistrieri, T., Glasenapp, K., & Piacentine, L. (1999). Concept maps: A strategy to teach and evaluate critical thinking. Journal of Nursing Education, 38(1), 42–47.

Daley, B. J., & Torre, D. M. (2010). Concept maps in medical education: An analytical literature review. Medical Education, 44(5), 440–448. doi:10.1111/ j.1365-2923.2010.03628.x

Daley, B. J., Torre, D. M., Stark-Schweitzer, T., Siddartha, S., Ziebert, M., & Petkova, J. (2006). Advancing teaching and learning in medical education through the use of concept maps. Paper presented at the Second International Conference on Concept Mapping, Universidad de Costa Rica, San Jose, Costa Rica.

de Jong, T. (2010). Cognitive load theory, educational research, and instructional design: Some food for thought. Instructional Science, 38, 105–134.

Edmondson, K. M. (1995). Concept mapping for the development of medical curricula. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 32(7), 777–793. doi:10.1002/ tea.3660320709

Edmondson, K. M. (2005). Assessing science understanding through concept maps: A human constructivist view. In J. J. Mintzes, J. H. Wandersee & J. D. Novak (Eds.), Assessing science understanding (pp. 19–41). Burlington, MA: Elsevier.

Edmondson, K. M., & Smith, D. F. (1998). Concept mapping to facilitate veterinary students’ understanding of fluid and electrolyte disorders. Teaching and Learning in Medicine, 10(1), 21–33. doi:10.1207/s15328015tlm1001_5

Gonzalez, H. L., Palencia, A. P., Umana, L. A., Galindo, L., & Villafrade, L. A. (2008). Mediated learning experience and concept maps: A pedagogical tool for acheiving meaningful learning in medical physiology students. Advances in Physiology Education, 32, 312–316.

Ho, V., Kumar, R. K., & Velan, G. (2014). Onine testable concept maps: Benefits for learning about the pathogenesis of disease. Medical Education, 48, 687–697.

Ifenthaler, D. (2014). AKOVIA: Automated knowledge visualization and assessment. Technology, Knowledge and Learning, 19(1–2), 241–248. doi:10.1007/s10758-014-9224-6

Kalyuga, S., Ayres, P., Chandler, P., & Sweller, J. (2003). The expertise reversal effect. Educational Psychologist, 38(1), 23–31.

Kalyuga, S., Chandler, P., & Sweller, J. (1998). Levels of expertise and instructional design. Human Factors, 40(1), 1–17. doi:10.1518/001872098779480587

Kanthan, R., & Mills, S. (2005). Active learning strategies in undergraduate medical education of pathology: A Saskatoon experience. Journal of the International Association of Medical Science Educators, 15, 12–18.

Kirschner, P. A. (2002). Cognitive load theory: Implications of cognitive load theory on the design of learning. Learning and Instruction, 12(1), 1–10. doi:10.1016/ S0959-4752(01)00014-7

Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75–86. doi:10.1207/s15326985ep4102_1

Kumar, S., Dee, F., Kumar, R., & Velan, G. (2011). Benefits of testable concept maps for learning about pathogenesis of disease. Teaching and Learning in Medicine, 23(2), 137–143.

Luckie, D., Harrison, S. H., & Ebert-May, D. (2011). Model-based reasoning: Using visual tools to reveal student learning. Advances in Physiology Education, 35(1), 59–67.

McGaghie, W. C., McCrimmon, D. R., Mitchell, G., Thompson, J. A., & Ravitch, M. M. (2000). Quantitative concept mapping in pulmonary physiology: Comparison of student and faculty knowledge structures. American Journal of Physiology: Advances in Physiology Education, 23(1), 72–81.

Merrienboer, J. J., & Sweller, J. (2010). Cognitive load theory in health professional education design principles and strategies. Medical Education, 44, 85–93.

Mok, C. K. F., Whitehill, T. L., & Dodd, B. J. (2008). Problem-based learning, critical thinking and concept mapping in speech-language pathology education: A review. International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 10(6), 438–448. doi:10.1080/17549500802277492

Nicol, D. J., & Macfarlane‐Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199–218. doi:10.1080/03075070600572090

Novak, J. D. (1990). Concept maps and Vee diagrams: Two metacognitive tools to facilitate meaningful learning. Instructional Science, 19(1), 29–52. doi:10.1007/ bf00377984

Novak, J. D., & Canas, A. J. (2008). The theory underlying concept maps and how to construct and use them. Retrieved from ResearchPapers/TheoryUnderlyingConceptMaps.pdf

O’Donnell, A. M., Dansereau, D. F., & Hall, R. H. (2002). Knowledge maps as scaffold for cognitive processing. Educational Psychology Review, 14(1), 71–86.

Pintoi, A. J., & Zeitz, H. J. (1997). Concept mapping: A strategy for promoting meaningful learning in medical education. Medical Teacher, 19(2), 114–121. doi:10.3109/01421599709019363

Pluta, W. J., Richards, B. F., & Mutnick, A. (2013). PBL and beyond: Trends in collaborative learning. Teaching and Learning in Medicine, 25(Suppl. 1), S9–S16.


Pudelko, B., Young, M., Vincent-Lamarre, P., & Charlin, B. (2012). Mapping as a learning strategy in health professions education: A critical analysis. Medical Education, 46(12), 1215–1225.

Rendas, A. B., Fonesca, M., & Pinto, P. R. (2006). Toward meaningful learning in undergraduate medical education using concept maps in a PBL pathophysiology course. Advances in Physiology Education, 30, 23–29.

Saeidifard, F., Heidari, K., Foroughi, M., & Soltani, A. (2014). Concept mapping as a method to teach an evidence-based educated medical topic: A comparative study in medical students. Journal of Diabetes & Metabolic Disorders, 13(86).

Strautmane, M. (2014, June). Increasing the flexibility of automated concept map based knowledge assessment. Paper presented at the International Conference on Computer Systems and Technologies, Ruse, Bulgaria.

Surapaneni, K. M., & Tekian, A. (2013). Concept mapping enhances learning of biochemistry. Medical Education Online, 18, 1–4.

Torre, D. M., Daley, B. J., Stark-Schweitzer, T., Siddartha, S., Petkova, J., & Ziebert, M. (2007). A qualitative evaluation of medical student learning with concept maps. Medical Teacher, 29, 949–955.

Veronese, C., Richards, J. B., Pernar, L., Sullivan, A. M., & Schwartzstein, R. M. (2013). A randomized pilot study of the use of concept maps to enhance problem-based learning among first-year medical students. Medical Teacher, 35(9), e1478–e1484.

Vink, S. C., Tartwijk, J. V., Bolk, J., & Verloop, N. (2015). Integration of clinical and basic sciences in concept maps: A mixed-method study on teacher learning. BMC Medical Education, 15(20).

Watson, G. R. (1989). What is concept mapping? Medical Teacher, 11(3–4), 265–269.

Weinerth, K., Koenig, V., Brunner, M., & Martin, R. (2014). Concept maps: A useful and usable tool for computer-based knowledge assessment? A literature review with a focus on usability. Computers and Education, 78, 201–209.

Weiss, L. B., Levison, S. P., Donoghue, G. D., Hoffman, E., & Magrane, D. (2000). Tools for integrating women’s health into medical education: Clinical cases and concept mapping. Academic Medicine, 75(11), 1081–1086.

Wilgis, M., & McConnell, J. (2008). Concept mapping: An educational strategy to improve graduate nurses’ critical thinking skills during a hospital orientation program. The Journal of Continuing Education in Nursing, 39(3), 119–126.

Willis, S. C., Jones, A., Bundy, C., Burdett, K., Whitehouse, C. R., & O’Neill,

P. A. (2002). Small-group work and assessment in a PBL curriculum: A qualitative and quantitative evaluation of student perceptions of the process of working in small groups and its assessment. Medical Teacher, 24(5), 495–501. doi:10.1080/0142159021000012531

Wu, P. H., Hwang, G. J., Milrad, M., Ke, H. R., & Huang, Y. M. (2012). An innovative concept map approach for improving students’ learning performance with an instant feedback mechanism. British Journal of Educational Technology, 43(2), 217–232. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2010.01167.x

Yin, Y., Vanides, J., Ruiz-Primo, M. A., Ayala, C. C., & Shavelson, R. J. (2005). Comparison of two concept-mapping techniques: Implications for scoring, interpretation and use. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42(2), 166–184.



  • There are currently no refbacks.