Design of a sensemaking assistant to support learning


D. Soergel and P. Zhang, “Design of a sensemaking assistant to support learning,” in The Future of Education, 2020.

Date Presented:



Thinking tools that assist by externalizing thought processes and conceptual structures so they can be manipulated potentially improve user learning. We propose the design of a sensemaking assistant that integrates many such tools. Our design emerged from an intensive study of sensemaking by users working on real tasks, providing a link from users to developers. Sensemaking is the process of forming meaningful representations and working with them to gain understanding, possibly communicated in a report, to support planning, decision‑making, problem‑solving, and informed action. At the heart of our design is a set of tightly integrated tools for representing and manipulating a conceptual space: tools for producing and maintaining concept maps, causal maps/influence diagrams, argument maps, with support through self-organizing semantic maps, importing concepts and relationships from external Knowledge Organization Systems, and inferring connections between texts; further a tool for organizing information items (documents, text passages notes, images) linked to the concept map. The sensemaking assistant we envision guides users through the sensemaking process; for each function it suggests appropriate cognitive processes and provides tools that automate tasks. The comprehensive sensemaking model introduced in specifies functions in the iterative process of sensemaking: Task analysis and planning; Gap identification (tools for both: brainstorming, finding documents on the task); information acquisition, data seeking and structure seeking (search tool: finding databases, query expansion, passage retrieval; summarization tool); information organization, building structure, instantiating structure, information synthesis / new ideas / emerging sense (conceptual space tools mentioned above); information presentation, creating reports (from concept map to outline, guide through the writing process, analyze draft writing for coherence and clarity). The system tracks sources. Users using a sensemaking assistant may well internalize good ways for intellectual processes and good conceptual organization in addition to learning a useful application. The paper will provide some evidence from the literature and propose further testing.