A Systematic Review of Research on Collaborative Learning with Concept Maps

A Systematic Review of Research on Collaborative Learning with Concept Maps

Olusola O. Adesope (Simon Fraser University, Canada) and John C. Nesbit (Simon Fraser University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-992-2.ch012


This chapter reviews research about the collaborative use of concept maps for learning. Although decades of research have produced some understanding of the cognitive effects of using concept maps in individual learning, theories about their effects in collaborative learning are less firmly established. The review incorporated a systematic literature search, analysis of dependent variables as effect sizes, and discussion of representative studies. Students who learned collaboratively by constructing concept maps outperformed those who learned from other activities such as studying texts, outlines, lists and lectures. However, no effect of studying pre-constructed concept maps in collaborative settings was statistically detected. There was homogeneity across the subsets of studies investigated. The review concludes with suggestions for future research in learning with concept maps in collaborative environments.
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Concept maps represent knowledge as node-link networks that show concepts as nodes and the relationships among the concepts as arrows or links. Researchers and teachers have used concept maps as media for constructive learning activities, instructional presentations, and as shared materials for co-construction of knowledge (Cañas et al., 2003). Researchers have suggested that concept maps may also serve as an effective learning medium when implemented as interactive software (Cañas et al., 2003; Novak, 2002). An example of a concept map is shown in Figure 1. The map in Figure 1 has links that are directional and labeled with a relational term, but the maps used in educational research sometimes have non-directional, unlabeled links.

Figure 1.

Dansereau and his colleagues (e.g., Hall, Dansereau, & Skaggs, 1992; Lambiotte & Dansereau, 1992; McCagg & Dansereau, 1991) have used the term ‘knowledge map’ to refer to a type of concept map with directional links labeled by symbols such as P (part) or C (characteristic), drawn from a fixed set of relations. Figure 2 shows the same information in figure 1 displayed using a knowledge map.

Figure 2.

Research on the instructional applications of concept maps has proliferated since they were first used as educational tools in the early 1970s. Figure 3 shows the growth of research literature on concept maps over the past three decades. A period of rapid growth from 1985 to 1990 followed the publication of Novak & Gowin’s (1984) Learning How to Learn, which presented a comprehensive argument for the educational use of concept maps.

Figure 3.

When used for learning, concept maps can be (a) created by instructors and presented to students (Cliburn, 1986; Lambiotte & Dansereau, 1992), (b) constructed by students (McCagg & Dansereau, 1991), or (c) received and modified by students (Chang, Sung, & Chen, 2002). Recent reviews on the instructional use of concept maps show their growing prominence as a tool for supporting learning (Nesbit & Adesope, 2006; O’Donnell, Dansereau & Hall, 2002). In a recent meta-analysis, Nesbit and Adesope (2006) found that, in different instructional conditions, settings and experimental features, the use of concept and knowledge maps produced increased retention and transfer of knowledge when compared with control conditions where students studied with texts, outlines, lists or listened to lectures. The meta-analysis also found that studying with instructor- or researcher-generated concept maps rather than texts yielded an overall effect size of d = .4 standard deviations. The effect was higher (d = .82) when students constructed their own concept maps or modified maps constructed by teachers. In his influential book on statistical power analysis, Cohen (1988) suggested that an effect size of d = 0.2 could be regarded as “small”, an effect size d = .50 could be regarded as “medium”, and an effect size d = .8 could be regarded as “large”.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Concept Map: A diagram that facilitates organization, presentation, processing and acquisition of knowledge by showing relationships among concepts as node-link networks. Ideas in a concept map are represented as nodes and connected to other ideas/nodes through link labels.

Best-evidence synthesis: An approach for synthesizing research. Similar to meta-analysis but may use representative sampling of studies to arrive at a given conclusion.

Cooperative Learning: A form of collaborative learning structured to promote individual accountability towards group performance.

Collaborative Learning: A pedagogical approach in which learners socially interact in small groups to facilitate construction of knowledge.

Node-link map: A diagram that has ideas in nodes connected with other related ideas through links. Thus, concept and knowledge maps are sometimes referred to as node-link maps.

Meta-Analysis: A quantitative research review that applies statistical techniques to examine, standardize and combine the results of different empirical studies that investigate a set of related research hypotheses.

Knowledge Map: A node-link diagram that has ideas located in nodes and connected to other related ideas through labeled pre-fixed links.

Information map: A type of knowledge map used by counselors to convey information to and improve clients’ recall on preventing relapse.

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