From the desk of Adrianne E. Avillion, DEd, RN

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, January 7, 2011

Editor's note: This feature is written by nursing staff development expert Adrianne E. Avillion, DEd, RN. Each week, Adrianne writes about an important issue in the area of staff development or answers reader questions. If you have a question for Adrianne, e-mail her at

Concept mapping as an innovative teaching and problem solving strategy

Concept maps are actual visual representations of the relationships among important pieces of information. They provide the "big picture" of a situation. Concept maps can be drawn by hand or computer generated. Key concepts or ideas are placed in boxes or circles that are connected by directional links represented by diagonal lines. Learners identify important concepts and add new ideas or additional information. They also show how these ideas or pieces of information are interrelated.

Clinical scenarios are often the focus of concept maps, but they may also be useful for education dilemmas.  Let's look at a staff development example. The problem: high turnover and poor retention of orientees. You could start by diagramming some basic information. The problem is placed in the center of the concept map with contributing factors identified by directional lines.

You might start by looking at the effectiveness of your preceptor program. Additional boxes with directional lines leading to the "Preceptor program" box would contain information about how preceptors are selected and trained, and evaluation data obtained from orientees about the preceptor experience, etc. You would do the same for the other two areas. Analyze the effectiveness of orientation based on evidence gathered from evaluations, turnover rates, competency demonstrations, etc. The remaining box would deal with information about interaction on the orientee's unit. For instance, how are new employees treated? Is there evidence of bullying and horizontal hostility? What are the manager's expectations of new employees?

By writing out a visualization of problems and contributing factors, you will be able to see the entire scenario. You will also be able to see how your proposed solutions fit in with the entire scope of the problem.
The preceding information was adapted from Avillion, A.E., et al. (2010). Innovation in Nursing Staff Development: Teaching Strategies to Enhance Learner Outcomes. Danvers, MA: HCPro.

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