Epidemiology is founded on central concepts and principles, essential for conducting, reporting and critically assessing epidemiological studies. Definitions of the many concepts used in the field can be found in textbooks and via the Dictionary of Epidemiology. However, central epidemiological concepts are labelled and used in multiple ways, leading to potential misunderstanding when communicating in different fora. The aim here is to describe collaborative concept mapping, and illustrate how it can be used in teaching and learning epidemiology. Concept mapping is a cognitive technique that is widely used in the education of medical and allied health professions as a tool for critical thinking, and to assimilate new knowledge, but it is still under-utilised in epidemiology. A specific concept map is defined by the aim and question in focus; it is thus framed by a context. The concept map is constructed using a set of concepts (nodes) that are linked with arrows or lines (links). Words and phrases (connective terms) are used to explain relationships between the concepts linked. Different domains can be interconnected by linking concepts in different areas (cross-links). The underlying structure of knowledge is often complex, and consequently concept maps can be constructed using different topological features. Here we provide an illustrative example of concept mapping, based on a set of ‘basic’ concepts introduced in a doctoral course in epidemiology. In summary, concept mapping is a compelling, active learning tool, which can promote shared deeper knowledge of concepts and their complex interconnections, thereby facilitating a better understanding of epidemiological research.
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