It might sound like an odd question as it could be argued that any map has some educational value.
But it isn't as simple as that.
Maps, like books, are not all created equal. Every book pulled off a shelf isn’t going to be a great one. Its grammar might be good, the plot moderately interesting but lacks the compelling qualities that make you want to read it. Or it could be so uniformly bad that you put it back immediately.
Similarly, maps can suffer from being poorly put together, using incomplete or bad data, and look unappealing if the aspects that make them easily readable are ignored.
Even if a map is correct in essentials but badly designed, the intended information being conveyed to the reader is lost.
What then is an educational map?
An educational map is designed with clarity and accuracy using good geographic data. It presents factual information a reader can easily interpret and understand.
The majority of maps or map products aimed at children in particular tout their educational value. Unfortunately, these same maps are largely devoid of geographic integrity and lack the information children could actually learn something from.
Over generalization (simplification) of geographic features, leaving out vast portions of continents, and covering up every inch of the geography with cartoonish animals or cultural icons is commonplace.
This type of exaggerated simplification and over-cluttering makes it hard to understand how these objects relate to the geography it has been placed all over. Or what the map is even trying to communicate.
Maps tell important stories about how we view the world and how we exist in the geography we occupy. A good educational map depicts the physical and cultural features (and any thematic information) of a given area using sound cartographic techniques. These include
- proper text placement - so you know which feature that text is actually referring to
- colours that make logical sense and are easy on the eyes
- a good set of symbols (symbology) to represent features and information
Great maps grab your attention. They make you want to gaze at them and keep on exploring. In this way a map communicates all of its story to you, and almost without even realizing it, you’re learning more about places you know and far flung countries you can visit with your eyes.
A good educational map is compelling enough keep you returning to it because, like a great book, it holds your attention and imagination.