While concept mapping is popular, some research has shown that creating concept maps, when students have the material in front of them, is not as effective as retrieval practice (1). Other scholars have noted that it takes time to teach students to make concept maps in order for their use to be effective at enhancing learning, and training can sometimes take a lot of time. In one paper by Mintzes and colleagues, they note that training to use concept mapping requires multiple opportunities over extended periods of time, even from 10-15 weeks (2)! This is a lot of time to spend learning a learning activity, and instruction time in the classroom is precious. (Now, in 2020, possibly more than ever.)
However, for those who love the idea of concept mapping and are interested in infusing more retrieval-based learning activities into their teaching, retrieval mapping has evidence to support its effectiveness without extensive training!
In an experiment conducted by Janell Blunt and Jeff Karpicke (3), retrieval practice and concept mapping were crossed to create four learning conditions:
Retrieval mapping: students created concept maps from their own memory (i.e., they did not have the information in front of them)
Concept mapping: students created concept maps with the information in front of them
Free recall retrieval practice: the students practiced retrieval by writing what they could remember
Paragraph condition: the students wrote out the information with the information in front of them (i.e., copying the information down).
The students in the experiment read a text passage, and then they participated in one of the four learning conditions listed above. They returned one week later to take an assessment test to measure learning.
On the assessment test, students performed better if they practiced retrieval during learning. Both free recall retrieval practice and retrieval mapping led to more learning than concept mapping and copying the paragraph. The results showed that concept mapping with the material in front of them was not particularly effective. However, there were no differences between free recall retrieval practice and retrieval mapping. Both were equally effective.
Bottom Line: There does not seem to be a particular benefit to practicing retrieval mapping over a standard free recall learning activity. But, for those who like using concept mapping, switching the activity to retrieval mapping is easy and effective. And, for those wanting to infuse different types of retrieval-based learning activities into their teaching, retrieval mapping is an effective way to do so!
To read more about retrieval-based learning activities, check out this pair of blog posts from 2016:
You can also check out our “Retrieval Practice” tag to get a full list of blogs related to retrieval practice. (There are a lot of them!)
(1) Karpicke, J. D., & Blunt, J. R. (2011). Retrieval practice produces more learning than elaborative studying with concept mapping. Science, 331, 772-775.
(2) Mintzes, J. J., Canas, A., Coffey, J., Gorman, J., Gurley, L., Hoffman, R., McGure, S. Y., Miller, N., Moon, B., Trifone, J., & Wandersee, J. H. (2011). Comment on “Retrieval practice produces more learning than elaborative studying with concept mapping”. Science, 334(6055), 453-453.
(3) Blunt, J. R., & Karpicke, J. D. (2014). Learning with retrieval-based concept mapping. Journal of Educational Psychology 106(3), 849–858.