Mapping as a learning strategy in health professions education: a critical analysis


Beatrice Pudelko, UER Education, Télé-université, 100 Sherbrooke Ouest, Montreal, Quebec H2X 3P2, Canada. Tel: 00 1 514 843 2015; Fax: 00 1 514 843 2160; E-mail:


Medical Education 2012: 46: 1215–1225

Context  Mapping is a means of representing knowledge in a visual network and is becoming more commonly used as a learning strategy in medical education. The assumption driving the development and use of concept mapping is that it supports and furthers meaningful learning.

Objectives  The goal of this paper was to examine the effectiveness of concept mapping as a learning strategy in health professions education.

Methods  The authors conducted a critical analysis of recent literature on the use of concept mapping as a learning strategy in the area of health professions education.

Results  Among the 65 studies identified, 63% were classified as empirical work, the majority (76%) of which used pre-experimental designs. Only 24% of empirical studies assessed the impact of mapping on meaningful learning. Results of the analysis do not support the hypothesis that mapping per se furthers and supports meaningful learning, memorisation or factual recall. When documented improvements in learning were found, they often occurred when mapping was used in concert with other strategies, such as collaborative learning or instructor modelling, scaffolding and feedback.

Conclusions  Current empirical research on mapping as a learning strategy presents methodological shortcomings that limit its internal and external validity. The results of our analysis indicate that mapping strategies that make use of feedback and scaffolding have beneficial effects on learning. Accordingly, we see a need to expand the process of reflection on the characteristics of representational guidance as it is provided by mapping techniques and tools based on field of knowledge, instructional objectives, and the characteristics of learners in health professions education.