Concept Map vs. Mind Map – What’s The Difference?

There is mind mapping and then there is concept mapping.

Confused? I was too, some centuries ago.

You might know concept mapping and—at the same time—not thoroughly acquainted with mind mapping.

Concept maps and mind maps seem similar, they both are used for organizing information.

So, it is easy to get them mixed up, but they differ from each other in the way they are structured and the purposes they serve.

Having seen all the confusion, it’s only right that I serve you a delicious article, explaining each mapping technique separately, then moving on to look at their unique characteristics and similarities.

After reading this article, you’ll determine which one is better and which one is more suited to certain needs.

Let’s get started.

concept map versus mind map

What is a Concept Map?

Concept maps are diagrams that depict suggested relationships between concepts and are primarily used for analyzing complex problems, identifying solutions, and connecting concepts with actions.

Designers, engineers, technical writers, and other professionals use concept maps to organize and visualize tacit knowledge.

Analysis using concept maps typically begins at the highest conceptual level and works down to the details.

Hence, this type of hierarchical structure usually shows multiple complex parent and child topics.

Charts, graphic organizers, tables, flowcharts, Venn Diagrams, or T-charts can be used to make concept maps.

concept map example
An example of a concept map that explains how a concept map works. (Image credit: “concept_map_lrg” by jean-louis Zimmermann on Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Pros of Concept Maps

  • Ideal for presenting tacit knowledge.
  • Useful method to gain insight into the ways students view a scientific topic
  • Effective in helping young students learn and organize new information.
  • Has capabilities for complex knowledge modeling.
  • Fewer ambiguities because of linking phrases.

Cons of Concept Maps

  • Can be difficult to make;
  • For examiners, evaluation of concept maps is more time-consuming.
  • Some concept maps are messy (especially the ones exploring complex concepts), making them visually overwhelming.

What is a Mind Map?

Mind maps are diagrams used for generating and exploring ideas and organizing information and they work best as part of brainstorming and creative thinking.

Mind maps are built around a central project, topic, or question. Then subtopics branch out from the central idea in nodes in a center-out hierarchical structure.

Typically, the structure of mind maps diagrams is radial, useful for creative thinking, or tree-like, for hierarchizing a project.

Instead of following a linear progression of ideas, the tasks, words, or concepts are arranged around a focus concept or topic using a non-linear graphical layout.

This means that a mind Map is an intuitive framework that can be used to spark creativity in the planning phase of a project because it can convert a long list of monotonous information into a dynamic, engaging, and well-organized diagram.

a writer creates a mind map for starting a business.
A writer creates a mind map for starting a business.

Pros of Mind Maps

  • Effective in helping young students learn and organize new information.
  • Versatile tools for both scholarly and business needs.
  • Ideal for brainstorming.
  • Easy to build, comprehend, and adapt.
  • Improves creativity.
  • Flexible and ideal for continuous updates.

Cons of Mind Maps

  • The lack of connecting phrases leads to more ambiguities in the map
  • Not ideal for top-bottom analysis
  • Not ideal for articulating tacit knowledge

Differences between Concept map vs. Mind map

Definitions

Just by looking at the definitions of the two techniques, one wouldn’t see many differences.

A mind map is a diagram that shows connected ideas and perceptions of a central topic or a subject. A concept map, on the other hand, is a diagram that presents suggested relationships between concepts.

Nature

Mind maps tend to be more flexible and personal and are used to dissect the map’s central idea/item/topic/concept in multiple ways.

Contrastively, concept maps are more logical and usually contextualize specific ideas within larger topics.

Visual structure

If we don’t differentiate concept maps and mind maps beyond the basic definitions, a lot of laymen would still be confused.

Concept maps have a more complicated layout, whereas mind maps—more or so—tree charts.

A concept map typically uses boxes or circles to represent cognitive knowledge structures (Schemata). Arrow or straight lines and linking phrases are used to represent relationships between concepts and the result is a non-linear flowchart.

Concept maps usually have many-to-many relationships between concepts, whereas mind maps portray simple relationships between ideas—and often have one-to-one relationships.

differences between concept map vs. mind map

A typical concept map has 3 major features:

  1. Free-form structure. Concept maps have a flexible layout with many branches.
  2. Hierarchical structure. Follows a top-down approach and concepts or items are organized from the most general topics to the most specific ones.
  3. Propositional structure.  The concepts are cross-linked using prepositions and phrases.

A typical mind map has 2 major features:

  1. Radial pattern, with subtopics built around a central idea.
  2. Has a simple layout, with many one-to-one relationships among its subtopics.

Approach and Usage

One element that differentiates concept maps from mind maps is the top-down approach to analysis. This approach makes a typical concept map portray multiple parents and children.

Concept mapping is ideal for mapping tacit knowledge and subjects that have many-to-many relationships.

This also makes concept mapping ideal for modeling complex relationships between sets of information.

Mind maps are usually subjective, and you are free to find a style of building mind maps that suits your purposes.

Concept maps are used to assist laymen with sorting out new information, help students to establish and understand substantive associations between a parent topic and subtopics, and help participants—of the project—identify a problem and find appropriate actions to be taken.

Mind maps are used to brainstorm (whether individually or as a group), sum up information, take notes, aggregate information from multiple sources, study, and guarantee retention of information. Concept mapping is an effective technique with a capacity for introducing information and evaluating students’ comprehension of information.

Similarities between Concept map vs. Mind map

Both concept maps and mind maps have elements that are—in a general sense—similar.

They both have topics, subtopics, and linking elements. Although they seem to serve similar purposes, there are differences when we look closely at the functions.

For example, in a concept map, topics are represented by more general concepts, subtopics by specific concepts, and arrows aided by linking phrases show the relationships between concepts.

For mind maps, topics are represented by more general ideas, subtopics by more specific ideas, and relationships between the ideas are represented by connecting lines.

Which technique is better? When to use which?

There isn’t a straightforward answer, we always have to consider things like content, purpose, usage, and other factors before deciding on which technique.

Here are some of the major factors to consider before choosing between concept mapping and mind mapping:

1. Content

Mind Mapping developed leans toward the personal note-taking and memorization technique class.

It is very effective when used as a study and learning technique, as the rich texture of personalized mind maps and quick box-style improve recall. Plus, The flexibility of mind maps makes them ideal for various classroom uses.

For example, teachers can use mind maps to explain a topic to students, make lesson plans, or write revision guides.

On the other hand, building concept maps is more rigorous than creating Mind Maps. In a concept map, concepts are always linked using linking texts, and the maps have no unexplained connections. This means that concept maps can visualize systems, something that a treelike structure of a mind map cannot easily accomplish.

The implication of this is that concept maps are more suited to content that is created to share knowledge with people who weren’t part of the map building, describing systems that rely on interaction, describing processes and sequences, and visualizing subjects that require multiple ways to organize.

How can writers use mind maps?

2. Audience

Before making your choice, you also have to look at the demographics of your audience. Study the characteristics of your audience such as age groups and educational background.

Some age groups are going to have a tough time deciphering the maps; likewise, people at lower academic levels will need a simple diagram.

That’s why I’d recommend using mind maps for brainstorming, book summaries, studying, making to-do lists, and note-taking for most age groups and academic levels.

And… concept maps should be used for studying, structuring courses, projects, business meetings, deep analysis, structuring HTML pages, etc.

3. Usability

What are you looking for? Something easy to make? Readable? Just something simple, perhaps?

You might have to make some compromises when it comes to the readability and difficulty of making your map.

Summary

Concept maps and mind maps are similar and are used interchangeably most of the time.

But the truth is, they are different techniques for organizing information, but they have their own distinctive functions.

Mind maps tend to focus on one concept, while concept maps usually focus on multiple concepts and ideas.

They also differ in the way they link their topics. While concept maps use connection words alongside arrows, mind maps do not have connection words.

In addition, mind maps are easy to update or alter after creating, but concept maps are quite messy with a lot of nodes.

Choosing which techniques to use is a matter of context. You can’t always use concept maps or mind maps without considering factors like content, audience, and usability of the map.

Explore the two types of mapping techniques and see which method fits your needs.

About Jessica Majewski

Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories.

She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.