Concept maps: is there a difference with mind maps?

One might wonder if concept maps are any different from mind maps, or spray diagrams as they are called sometimes. According to one source (Open University course T552) they are at least very similar. In the same course material we find that London-born Tony Buzan claims the  invention of mind mapping in the early 1970s. True or not, there is little doubt that Novak’s concept maps are a great improvement over Buzan’s mind maps for a number of reasons, including their logical propositional structure, solid psychological foundation, enhanced readability, and advanced ICT and web 2.0 capability. All of the claims made in course T552 for spray diagrams, are equally applicable to concept maps and mentioned and illustrated in “Learning, creating, and using knowledge” (Novak, 1998/2010). I couldn’t help creating a concept map of the Open University’s spray diagram and leave you to compare it to its original. Of course, I also had to add the concept of “learning”. In my experience with concept maps, the claims made by Open University for spray diagrams (and by extension for concept maps) are far from exaggerated. But which of the two is more deserving of the epithet “Swiss army knife of the brain”?


About Sjon van ’t Hof

Development professional who worked in rural development, tropical agriculture, and irrigation development in Chad, Zambia, Mali, Ghana, Mauritania, Israel, Burkina Faso, Niger, and the Netherlands in capacities ranging from project design and management to information management. Conducted missions to India, China, Kenya, and Bangladesh. Experience in the development and delivery of trainings in irrigation equipment selection, information literacy, Internet searching and database searching. Explores systems thinking in relation to international development, education, and management, with an ever stronger focus on the systems approach of C. West Churchman. Knowledgeable in tropical agriculture, project design and development economics, agricultural mechanization, irrigation, plant pathology, environmental degradation and protection, rural development. Co-authored "Wicked Solutions: a systems approach to complex problems", a book written by Bob Williams and Sjon van 't Hof. It was published in June 2014 and provides a practical way of dealing with wicked problems. Wicked problems are complex, ill-structured, human problem situations. This book will help you design an inquiry and intervention in such messy, wicked situations. It does so by guiding you through the steps and stages of a systemic process that addresses your own wicked problem. For more information, see or
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