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Improving Knowledge Transfer using Concept Maps and PowerPoint


Dr Steve Walsh - Mar 2010


There are numerous ways of transferring knowledge from one individual to another (e.g. articles, books, podcasts, videos).  I will be focus on knowledge transfer using presentations, which could be lectures to students, presenting research findings to colleagues or any presentation to an audience.  When faced with having to do a presentation, we often automatically roll out PowerPoint. I will show you how concept mapping on its own or combined with PowerPoint can be used to improve your presentations.

Knowledge Transfer

Knowledge transfer using a presentation aims to:

  • Connect with the audience
  • Hold the audience’s attention
  • Promote the audiences understanding and retention of the content presented

Presentations usually have time limits.  Another factor to consider is the amount of existing (or prior) knowledge of your audience and their capacity to understand your material.  Preparing a presentation has four distinct stages:

  • Preparation of the topic
  • Structuring of the content
  • Design of the presentation
  • And finally, the Delivery

Anatomy of a presentation

Figure 1 - Overview of a Presentation


PowerPoint is extremely an versatile  presentation tool, but has some inherent deficiencies:

  • The ability to induce passivity in the audience
  • Presentations are usually linear
  • There is nothing connecting bullet points or individual slides so later recall of content is poor
  • Slide titles just provide sequence and do not aid understanding
  • Artificial breaks are produced where content that belongs together is spread across a number of slides
  • Slide handouts (even with space for the students’ notes) have a tendency to promote rote learning

Concept Maps

Concept maps are tools for organizing and representing knowledge. Concept maps contain content in context.  They consist of:

  • Propositions
  • Hierarchical structure
  • Focus question
  • Cross links
  • Attachments or resources

Constituents of concept maps

Figure 2 - Components of concep maps

Concept Maps vs. Mind Maps

Concept Maps differ from other types of mapping systems, such as Knowledge Maps, Conceptual Graphs, and Mind Maps because of: their grounding in Ausubel’s Assimilation theory of learning, their semantic and structural organization, and the use of concepts with linking phrases.

Concept maps compared to mind maps     
Table 1 - Mind map vs. concept map

Figure 3 - A typical mind map

Using Concept Maps for Presentation

There are four phases in giving a presentation and concept maps can be used in all of them.


Concept maps can help the presenter prepare. Defining the focus question helps to set the boundaries of the content. Relevant concepts can be identified and entered in no particular order.


Organizing the concepts into a hierarchy and adding links and connecting phrases provides a logical structure for your presentation.


In the design phase, background graphics can be added to the entire map or for any element of the concept map including: concepts, links and linking phrases.  Similar concepts can by associated by colouring them the same. There are no animations in CmapTools. Animations can sometimes be distracting.  A wide variety of supporting resources can be attached to concepts or linking phrases such as: graphics, audio, video, PDFs, docs, spreadsheets, PowerPoint slideshows, links to websites and other concept maps .


To  facilitate delivery of the presentation, there is a slideshow feature built into CmapTools which provides for selective revealing and emphasis of the content.

Combining Concept Maps and PowerPoint

Combining concept maps with PowerPoint to transfer knowledge can harness the best features of both. Kinchin studied dental students and found PowerPoint bullets assisted memorization (i.e. a surface approach to learning) but students preferred concept maps for providing connections between major ideas and improving understanding (i.e. the deep approach to learning). He advocates using both technologies.   This can be done by either:

  • Using concept maps with links to PowerPoint slideshows, or
  • Using concept maps to provide navigation within non-linear PowerPoint slideshows

Concept Maps Linked to PowerPoint

PowerPoint slides and handouts are of very limited value as knowledge transfer mediums in the long term as they provide little of the presenters content.  Adding the presenters narration to each slide makes a huge difference to the usefulness of the presentation.  How you can do this is the topic of a separate lesson (which you can view online at Linking multiple PowerPoint slideshows which also have audio recordings of the presentation provide context and rich content.

Non-linear PowerPoint Using a Concept Map to Navigate

You can save a concept map as a graphic and link the concepts or linking phrases to different sections of the same slideshow, or even different slideshows.


A fascinating study by Moon used incidental recall to evaluate the effect of different presentation media on learning. He found that concept maps were:

  • Far quicker to create than PowerPoint
  • Resulted in better comprehension than PowerPoint
  • And that using concept maps students got significantly better scores on their tests

I hope this stimulates you to download and explore using concept maps for yourself.


Cañas A.  A Summary of Literature Pertaining to the Use of Concept Mapping Techniques and Technologies for Education and Performance Support.

Demirdover C, Yilma M, Vayada H, et. al. Comparison of learning with concept maps and classical methods among medical students.

Kinchin I, Cabot L. Using Concept Mapping Principles in PowerPoint.

Moon B, Hoffman R, Shattuck L, et al. Rapid and accurate idea transfer - evaluating concept maps against other formats for the transfer of complex information.

Orue A, Alvarez G, Montoya F. Using concept maps to improve scientific communications.

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