Online testable concept maps: benefits for learning about the pathogenesis of disease

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Concept maps have been used to promote meaningful learning and critical thinking. Although these are crucially important in all disciplines, evidence for the benefits of concept mapping for learning in medicine is limited.


We performed a randomised crossover study to assess the benefits of online testable concept maps for learning in pathology by volunteer junior medical students. Participants (n = 65) were randomly allocated to either of two groups with equivalent mean prior academic performance, in which they were given access to either online maps or existing online resources for a 2-week block on renal disease. Groups then crossed over for a 2-week block on hepatic disease. Outcomes were assessed using timed online quizzes, which included questions unrelated to topics in the pathogenesis maps as an internal control. Questionnaires were administered to evaluate students' acceptance of the maps.


In both blocks, the group with access to pathogenesis maps achieved significantly higher average scores than the control group on quiz questions related to topics covered by the maps (Block 1: p < 0.001, Cohen's d = 0.9; Block 2: p = 0.008, Cohen's d = 0.7). However, mean scores on unrelated questions did not differ significantly between the groups. In a third block on pancreatic disease, both groups received pathogenesis maps and collectively performed significantly better on quiz topics related to the maps than on unrelated topics (p < 0.01, Cohen's d = 0.5). Regression analysis revealed that access to pathogenesis maps was the dominant contributor to variance in performance on map-related quiz questions. Responses to questionnaire items on pathogenesis maps were overwhelmingly positive in both groups.


These results indicate that online testable pathogenesis maps are well accepted and can improve learning of concepts in pathology by medical students.

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