Sense Making

…is making connections between new information and what I know already and seeing that learning ‘matters to me’; the opposite is simply ‘accumulating data’ which has no particular meaning for me.


This dimension is about making connections between everything I know - ideas, memories, knowledge, skills, facts and experience – and making sense of them in relation to each new context of learning and performance. It’s about being able to create a ‘knowledge map’ of what I’m learning, so I can see how it all fits together and ‘find my way around’. It’s also about how ‘learning matters’ to me, connecting new insights with my own story and things that already matter in my life. This strengthens my sense of purpose in my learning.

To learners with little Sense Making, everything seems somewhat fragmented, harder to understand and they find it more difficult to know what’s important or how to go on.

Effective learners are on the lookout for links between what they are learning and what they already know. They get pleasure from seeing how things ‘fit together’. They like it when they can make sense of new things in terms of their own experience and when they can see how learning relates to their own concerns. Their questions reflect this orientation towards coherence. They are interested in the big picture and how the new learning fits within it. Whatever they are learning about, it is likely to matter to them, so they engage with it.

The contrast pole is data accumulation. Less effective learners are more likely to approach learning situations piecemeal and respond to them on their own individual merits. They may be more interested in ‘ticking boxes’ of success than looking for joined-up meaning and mastering new topics or challenges to achieve their own purposes.

  • Seeks to make connections and integrate ideas
  • Makes a whole from separate parts
  • Relates new learning to relevant past and current personal experience
  • Connects learning from different sources
  • Engages with new information or ideas and relates to them

  • Choose a field or topic you know quite a bit about and create a mind-map for it. Use your ‘map’ to connect up:
    • Why it matters to you – your feelings and connection with it
    • Facts and figures
    • History and development
    • Current state of play
    • People associated with the topic
  • Use mind-mapping to start you off with any project or campaign in which you have to organise and present knowledge
  • Take an everyday object – e.g. the first manufactured thing you used today – and think about everything that had to happen for that object to be there for you
  • Play a game with a friend: each of you think of an object, animal, person or idea. Try connecting up the two things you have thought of in some way (example ‘flowers’ and ‘winning the world cup’: answer – petals showered over the open-top bus in the victory parade)
  • For a new campaign or project, your team could create a ‘mega mind-map’ so everyone can add new connections whenever they see them
  • Think about emulating the way teams in crime dramas use wall displays to build up a picture of all the evidence collected so far and how it connects up
  • For every new piece of learning you come across, think about how it relates, or could relate, to something you remember experiencing or hearing about
  • For every new project, complete the sentence, ‘What matters to me about this is…’ and write down three ways in which it will make a difference to your stakeholders.