Saturday, June 14, 2008

Why Wikipedia can never be "WikiLearning"

Wikipedia can never be a platform for learning and instruction because the basic transaction or base unit is wrong. Wikipedia cannot be a platform for learning anymore than an encyclopedia can be the base of learning and instruction. This does not mean you cannot learn something from encyclopedias or Wikipedia, but it is not a platform for teaching.

The fundamental unit of learning is an active transaction such as a question and answer.

If you think about how children learn once they have language, it begins with the child asking questions. “Daddy, what are stars?” “Mama, why do I have to eat my peas?” A child’s questions are the basic units of much verbal learning.

I think you could build a learning infrastructure with questions and answers. We can see models of this idea with “help” sections in software. These are still crude structures that need refinement, better navigation tools and better linking mechanisms, but this seems like a more appropriate infrastructure for learning.

Even if a “question and answer” structure is the right foundation for a learning infrastructure, there are still many problems to address in building such a structure. The biggest challenge is how to you provide answers to all the different levels of learners. Obviously, the question, “why is it light in the day time and not at night?” gets answered differently to a five-year old than a school-age child or a high school science student, yet the question can take the same form. A well-designed learning structure will need to adapt quickly to the level of interest and knowledge of the person seeking the knowledge. There will also need to be ways to put questions in context in order to provide meaningful answers.


Charles Nelson said...

I'm not quite sure what you mean, but Wikipedia can be a tool for learning in at least two ways.

One is having students study the discussions behind the writing of Wikipedia articles, learning how "knowledge" emerges through negotiation, how "facts" are evaluated and disputed, and so on. A second way is having students either write articles or edit articles.

In the processes of studying or writing in an authentic environment and interacting with real people outside of the class, many questions will arise that need to be answered.

Robert Hughes Jr, PhD said...

Charles, thanks for your comment. I agree that we can use Wikipedia as a resource for teaching just like lots of other books, websites, etc.

What I mean is that Wikipedia is not designed as a great "platform" for learning. As a platform it would need many other tools for students and teachers to use to build interactions, conversations, and extended discussions. I don't think we have such a platform yet.

Kevin Gamble said...

"To learn is to create." - Michael Wesch

And that is why Wikipedia is a great learning environment. (or perhaps Wikiversity or... ) Where the learners interact with the knowledge and create.

Robert Hughes Jr, PhD said...


Good point. I agree that some types of learning can take place. Perhaps a better way for me to say this is to say that "wikipedia" is one type of learning, but it doesn't have all the tools I would want to make it the primary platform I would want for learning. I don't see tools for creating laboratories to try things out. Although it is possible to important visual material, this is generally a limitation.

livit said...

I guess wikipedia always has helped us