Concept Maps

One of the uses of concept maps that is growing at a fast rate is the use of concept maps to capture the “tacit” knowledge of experts. Experts know many things that they often cannot articulate well to others. This tacit knowledge is acquired over years of experience and derives in part from activities of the expert that involve thinking, feeling and acting. Often experts speak of a need to “get a feeling for what you’re working on”. In fact, the biography of one Nobel Lauriat in biology (Barbara McClintock) was entitled, A Feeling for the Organism (Keller, 1983). Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) stress the importance of capturing and using the knowledge of corporate expert’s tacit knowledge if a company wants to become “the knowledge creating company”.

Most of the methods used prior to concept maps consisted of various forms of interviews and analyses with experts, including case studies of how experts accomplished some remarkable achievements (Hoffman et al., 1995; Klein & Hoffman, 1992). In fact, these methods continue to be highly popular with many cognitive scientists, most of whom are unfamiliar with Ausubel’s work and the kind of epistemological ideas on which concept mapping is based. But it’s necessary to invent a better way to represent what “experts” know and how their knowledge changed over time. User Experience Designers began using interviews with Target Audience Personas to identify expert knowledge needed to interpret how a user will utilize a program.  User Experience Developers also had to define what levels of proficiency end-users would have in utilizing similar solutions. IE: if the end-user was a novice, expert, or intermediate user… Thus, the concept map not only allows us to represent the expert’s knowledge, but also to find gaps in the knowledge structure we procure through interviews with potential end-users in User Experience Concept documentation.

Use Case Scenarios, case study analyses, “critical incident” analyses and similar techniques provide value by extracting and representing expert knowledge. The end product of these studies is best represented in the form of concept maps, discussed here. Combine concept maps with some of the interview data and other information presented through icons on maps and in user “personas” then you have valuable information to go forward with clearly defined test cases.

Testing your application’s use cases and defining the application clearly before you go forward into the programming stage can decrease the time spent in iterative design down the road.  Which leads me further down the path of talking about Agile vs. SCRUM methodologies.  (I will talk about these concepts later.)