Artifacts of sensemaking

Now that we are nearing the end of week 1 in LAK11, we’re starting to see a few attempts at making sense of the flow of activity in different forums. These sensemaking attempts include: blog posts, summary Moodle forum posts, images, analysis of discussion forum activity, social network analysis, etc. As we progress in the course, we’ll encounter numerous tools for playing with data and text. Creating and sharing artifacts of sensemaking is an important activity in open online courses.


Higher education generally homogenizes learners through pre-requisites or subject streams (programs). Most learners in a course will be at a roughly similar stage – or so the program structure suggests. In reality, learners are a diverse group, even in reasonably small classes. They come to a course with different beliefs, live experiences, knowledge, aspirations, and learning habits. The uniformity of university program tracks masks the differences of learners.

In an open course, participants aren’t filtered in the same way. Participants range from “absolutely new to the topic” to “have written many books on the topic”. As a result, filtering (or forming sub-networks/groups/discussion clusters) happens once the course is underway. The first few weeks are a bit tumultuous – it’s really a sociological and psychological process of identifying yourself to others and positioning yourself meaningfully in the conversation. It’s not unlike attending a conference or a large social gathering – we reveal aspects of ourselves/our knowledge, we offer tentative views/positions to see if they will resonate with others, we begin to connect with those who respond favorably, we gravitate toward those who we find interesting (but not so interesting that we feel no connection), and so on.

One of the primary ways of connecting with others in an open course is through creating and sharing artifacts of sensemaking. These artifacts are resources produced by individual learners (diagrams, summary posts, podcasts, videos) that reflect their attempts to make sense of the course from her/his perspective. Given the diversity of participants, each learner plays a dual teaching-learning role. When our learning is transparent, we become teachers. We have over 600 participants in this course, which means you will connect with others. You will find people at a similar stage of knowledge. You might even find people in your own community. Essentially, we form small sub-networks that connect (lattice-like) to other sub-networks. Novices engage with novices…but simultaneously, they move into expert networks when a topic warrants. This fluidity of interaction across novice-intermediate-expert networks is one of the main points of value in open courses. And one of the main differentiators from traditional courses.

  1. Dominic Newbould

    Found this really thought provoking and useful, as a way of recognising the affordances of, say, eLearning in general, or disparate group learning/teaching.
    “artefacts of sense making” is a tiny bit ott for me, though! Couldn’t we just say “perceptions”?! Or am I missing the point big time? 🙄

    • In elearning individuals create objects, ie artefacts, in the form of blog posts, pictures etc, that show the evolution of their thoughts and feelings about the subject. And these artefacts are visible to other learners. In f2f contexts learners create artefacts too but they aren’t so visible. So the phrase ‘artefacts of sense-making’ seems apt to me.

  2. Siemen writes, ‘we begin to connect with those who respond favorably, we gravitate toward those who we find interesting..and so on’. This can be problematic as some learners may drift towards others that share similar views rather than those that challenge, and in doing so shift their thinking.

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