Concept mapping for time management and long term memory

A rare lecture on concept mapping and how it transforms our approach to learning and knowledge. Professor John Pelley from the University of Texas provides a unique approach to understand their value and how to start creating them.


Why is concept mapping important?

  • It’s an important tool to “learn how to learn”.

“The purpose of an educational institution is to lead the students, who initially believe the educational institution is there to educate them, to the realisation that they must educate themselves”

John Willis Hurst. American Cardiologist
  • In learning, memorisation is something, reasoning is another thing. It is as important and concept maps can help.
  • Although it’s presented in a medical context, I find it personally very useful and applies on many learning areas or applications (business, design)
  • Concept maps are the single best method for learning in medical school for every student.
  • Maps help you see more when reading, studying.
  • Maps are essential to discover hidden patterns.


  • It’s a tool for organising knowledge
  • It’s a reading method (probably the most important)
  • Its constructions makes reading: analytical
  • It makes reading deep
  • It’s a time-management tool
  • It contributes vert strongly to long-term memory.
  • It’s an active learning method
  • It’s a “living” document
  • all new learning is connected to existing knowledge (constructivism)
  • It’s a tool especially suited to ADD/ADHD students’s knowledge
  • It’s a visual representation of student’s knowledge

The concept of Deliberate Practice (DP)

  • State-of-the-art method that has emerged from human performance research and it’s being applied in medicine like surgery.
  • It rejects the idea that practice makes things perfect, it suggests that practice makes things permanent. Huge difference.
  • Concept mapping involves skills that benefit from application of DP at the beginning of medical training.

Anatomy of a Concept Map

  • Circles or bubbles that represent topics. Formally nodes.
  • Nodes are connected by a link
  • All constitutes a sentence.
  • A lot of facts connected together.
  • When a node branches is similar to a sub-list under a topic.
  • Modifiers or verbs written on links are good but not always necessary.
  • You can use concept maps for studying.
  • a well-written modifier shows the clarity of the thinking process.
  • The cross link represents what links completely separate branches.
  • Concept maps discipline you to look for connections, but one needs to be careful. Don’t spend your wheels on cross links, don’t force yourself to find them.
  • Some concept maps are built center out, probably better for learning are the top-down maps. Makes things easier.

Concept Maps Construction


  • List, Group, Compare
  • Group them by major topic
  • Compare by drawing cross-links

In Detail

  1. Inspectional reading, scanning. List or highlight the major concepts from the notes or textTry a regular outline if more comfortable.
  2. Identify in the list the most general concepts (grouping)
  3. Arrange with most general concepts at the topLabel connecting lines to explain the relationship, if needed.
    Arrowheads can show direction, cause-and-effect, etc.
  4. Try to branch out at each level of the hierarchy with more than one linkReading becomes more normal now.
  5. Identify and draw cross-links between related concepts.This is a powerful step in developing integrative thinking. Active learner mind set. Requires “looking around”
  6. Alternative patterns: A “spider” or cluster pattern can be constructed from the center outward, but this will not be seen as readily by linear learners.

Example of an OK starter concept map

Source: Journal of American Medical Association

  • Good example for a beginner’s concept map. It’s not high scoring though.
  • Very well organised, example: Medications BUT no detail.
  • Look at the Types, there’s are only two under it. Primary is detailed but secondary isn’t.
  • Remember: Maps organise reading.
  • A concept map isn’t always symmetrical.

Example of a very well detailed concept map

  • Very well detailed. Shows evolved thinking.
  • Remember: Maps are living documents.
  • Look at the cross-links: lots of them there. They represent deep understanding.

Learning Style Differences in Mapping

  • Sensing Types (linear learners): maps help them read for deeper meaning and use time better
    • Mapping helps revealing hierarchies/ relationships.
  • Intuitive Types (integrative learners): Enhance ability to see more connections
    • Increase time on task (reduces distraction)
    • Mapping helps increasing retention of details.
    • Mapping serves as Deliberate Practice for both sensing/ intuitive preferences.

On types on learners

  • Both linear and integrative learning are important.
    • Sensing type: more linear
    • Intuitive type: more integrative, jumping all over the place. ADD but not to a clinical level, functioning.
  • Both types benefit from mapping but differently.

Learning Cycle

  • Temporal integrative cortex is the hard drive. It’s the area that processes long-term memory. It’s the area we use first in a learning cycle. It’s the area (personal belief) sensing type prefers to use. Easier to use.
  • Temporal area looks the information that comes in, then tries to recognise if it has seen it before. If it doesn’t, then the front of the brain takes over and starts asking questions about it
  • Here’s where Deliberate Practice comes in. Because getting back to the sensing type, if they’re using the temporal area, they’re giving time up to some other area: prefrontal area looks into it. Front of your brain looks into
  • Front of the brain isn’t just asking questions, but also making decisions.
  • Then the brain acts on it. If you’re doing a test, your brain is making a decision. If you’re reading/ concept mapping, then your brain is making these connections.
  • Useful to read out loud while studying and concept mapping. Most of the points here were around medical school and medical exams.
  • Intuitive learners spend a lot of time using the front of their time, focusing less on the back of their brain. That’s why deliberate practice helps with facts and memorisation for them.
  • On the other hand sensing type need deliberate practice to be able to make connections and find patterns

To get the best value from concept mapping

  • Constructs your own maps. The magic is in building maps, not in the maps themselves. The decision making that leads to a map.
  • Don’t rely on maps that has been created by someone else. The value comes from the practice of mapping.

Additional Material

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