: Sensemaking and Wayfinding in Complex Distributed Online Information Enivronments

  • George Siemens

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by OU/Aberdeen)


    This thesis researches how individuals make sense of information and find their way in complex online environments. Global information communication networks are today accessible to almost everyone. One consequence of this network is greater ease of interaction with friends and colleagues from around the world. Another consequence is an increase in the amount of information that individuals face on a daily basis. People experience much of this
    information in fragments, from different sources, and in different media formats. In order to act meaningfully in a particular context, individuals form coherence around the information that they encounter.
    Making sense of this information is a challenging and on-going task, especially in advanced economies where knowledge-related work is a growing segment of the economy. Developing a coherent view of new information, and how it relates to existing information, is important in preparing individuals and organizations for decision-making, planning, and capacity for action. This research study considers the cognitive, social, technological, and spatial
    strategies that individuals use when they navigate the structure of, and content in, a large open online course with over 2,200 participants. The research includes a social network analysis of the participation patterns of learners in an open online course as well as a grounded theory exploration of the techniques and strategies those learners utilize in their learning.
    The theory that emerges from the research is the Sensemaking Wayfinding Information Model (SWIM) that details how individuals orient themselves through self-directed activities, as part of social networked systems, and through the use of technologies. This model centres on the information habits of individuals and emphasizes the centrality of identify formation,
    navigation, social interactions, and sensegiving activities. The social networks that form as individuals make sense of topics indicate the importance of participation, active engagement, language-based activities and artefact creation (such as naming concepts, creating word images, or creating images, diagrams, and videos), and sustained involvement over time.
    Date of Award2 May 2012
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Edinburgh
    SupervisorFrank Rennie (Supervisor) & Martin Weller (Supervisor)

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