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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Wikis - Public vs. Controlled - Why There's No eLearning Wiki

Update Sept. 18, 2006 - see - which aims to address exactly the issues I'm discussing below in Wikipedia.

I received an email asking me if I knew of any Wikis that provided information on eLearning concepts. First, let me say that I really like getting questions. But, has anyone noticed that blogs don't provide a means of asking questions that are not specific to a particular post? Thus, folks must send me email which is fine, but it means that people who read my blog can't post answers. I guess I could create a "Questions" post where questions could be added in the comment. Does that make sense?

Okay, onto the question ... the short answer is "None that I know" ... there's not really a place where you can find a Wiki that covers eLearning concepts.

But the answer is much more interesting than that. You can certainly go to Wikipedia and find information about learning concepts including eLearning and eLearning 2.0. However, Wikipedia has some issues (as does any public Wiki) as a place for defining these terms. The issue is how you balance commercial activity (e.g., vendors posting a link to their product) vs. being a comprehensive resource vs. being too leading edge.

The article on eLearning 2.0 which I originally created but that now I've been told that I'm too commercial to have links to any of my blog posts even though there are links to other blog posts by other folks who are commercial. So, I'm going to wait until my articles and presentations on eLearning 2.0 are available and then I'll go back and edit the post. Sheesh. It's definitely a bummer and has turned me off to contributing to Wikipedia even though it could be the place where definitions could go, e.g., rapid eLearning, informal learning, etc.

What's even more tricky is what do you do about having a page on Rapid eLearning that might list products that are rapid eLearning tools. This is done on Wikipedia for some topics, e.g., List of Wiki Software. But, Wikipedia, in general, is trying to avoid allowing links to products. It just invites too many problems.

So, while it would be great to have a page that was the definition of Rapid eLearning with links to all the relevant tools. I personally believe that it won't happen on Wikipedia.

Why isn't it happening elsewhere? Theoretically, ASTD's Learning Circuits or the eLearningGuild should do it right? Both organizations have played with creating and using Wikis, but unless there is critical mass of content and visitors, unless they become the defacto standard of where you find this information then you won't get sufficient content. Further, they will be competing with lots of individual sources of similar information and will pale in comparison at first. And, they will face the exact same issue around commercialism. Of course, they do have the advantage of being able to limit contribution based on membership and members are far less likely to blatently violate rules around commercialism.

I would suggest that this will happen at some point. Heidi Fisk? Dave Lee? Any comment?

Now before people jump to the conclusion that my experience on Wikipedia suggests that Wikis have problems as a tool to use in learning... Nothing could be farther from the truth. I actually think that Wikis are a fantastic tool for putting up reference materials and that in many corporate environments, they have become a means for people throughout the organization to easily contribute content. In a controlled environment, Wikis are a fantastic tool.

After my presentations at DevLearn - I'll have more to say on this subject.


Jesse Ezell said...

Typically the way you ask your own questions is to start your own blog :). Here is the problem though which is just as big as the no-wiki problem: we have no eLearning blog aggregator. Not only should there be an eLearning wiki, but there should also be a central place to locate eLearning blogs and good eLearning blog content.

Although something like eLearning Digg would be nice, a plain old aggregator that displays all registered feeds (like MXNA: would be a start in the right direction.

Tony Karrer said...

Jesse -

I agree that an aggregator for eLearning related content would be good to have, but I'm not sure simple aggregation does much. You can certainly set it up pretty easy these days.

Instead, what I actually believe will be the future of this is custom Digg-like functionality that allow ratings of articles and other content. You can more or less do this today by getting everyone to tag things a particular way using social bookmarking. But since the custom Diggs coming soon - several people are working on it - we can probably wait.

As long as you got enough people going to rate the articles so that the good stuff came to the top.

Jesse Ezell said...

Getting everyone to tag the same with social bookmarking is a hard thing to do. In the words of Joshua Schachter, the founder of, "If I went in there and said, Hey, you're using that tag wrong, people would just tell me to fuck off" (

The ideal situation, I think, would be something like digg where the today tab was also generated by aggregation instead of plain submission (links to other posts counted as an automatic digg for that post). Then, offer the standard digg functionality for all the non-blogging readers that need to manually digg things. This way, if you find something useful and link to it in your blog, you don't have to also digg it to get it up there.

mikeberta said...

Certainly tools like industry specific wikis would benefit the communities they serve. Taking it another step, company-specific wikis. Every company having a wealth of knowledge unrecorded or unavailable through current technology can be freed to grow through internal wikis. Just-in-time searches that yield more than ranked lists of related data.

jay said...

Hold it a minute. No eLearning aggregator? That's like saying the liquor store has gin and vermouth but they don't have any martinis. You are supposed to make your own. That way you can get exactly what you're looking for. Make mine dry.

When I want a "river view" of corporate eLearning, I go to

If I prefer to scan for what's happeninng, I typically use SpeedyFeed:

With OPML, you can transport your entire list of feeds into a variety of aggregators.

Tony Karrer said...

Mike - I completely agree. Company wiki's are really taking off right now.

Jay - like you, I do my own aggregation using my RSS reader and by subscribing to various searches, e.g., a technorati search on eLearning or e-Learning. My list of feeds is on the right, as is a link to my OPML list that someone could import if they wanted.

On the other hand, what you get is what you said - "a flood of information." How do I find the good stuff? That's where an eLearning community Digg would come in handy. It would theoretically bring the good stuff to the top.

A community Wiki would be great to have because it can be a repository of the good stuff, e.g., a definition of Informal Learning with links to good relevant data. The problem is how we collectively define Informal Learning, decide what links, and police the system.

Jesse Ezell said...

Looks like eelearning took this post to heart:

Or maybe it's just chance with the timing.

Jim Belshaw said...

Interesting thoughts,Tony.

On the question/discussion issue, you might like to have a look at John Quiggin's blog -

To my knowledge this is the heaviest traffic blog written by an Australian academic. He uses the devices of a Monday Message Board together with Weekend Reflections as a way of garnering comments, creating interaction. It seems to be very effective.

Tony Karrer said...

Jim - as usual - great comment and insight. It's funny that with the new medium (blogs), I've forgotten about some practices that are fairly well known. That's why you get paid the big consulting bucks. :) Thanks.

mklofurno said...

I think its good that Wikipedia is cracking down on content. In many SEO /SEM circles, what you are doing is considered link spam.

Yes, you are suppose to fashion your own e-learning aggregator, and there is a plethora of tools out there to do it. Get a subscription to search engine watch, it covers this stuff really well.

Tony Karrer said...

Hmmm ... "what you are doing is considered link spam" - I'm assuming you are refering to providing links to my posts in a Wikipedia page?

Link spam to me was more along the lines of putting up large numbers of links often poorly related in order to increase page rank and come up in searches ... but I'm not doing that (unless I'm missing something).

Of course, the trick is deciding what is Spam and what is legitimate content. I would claim that the content I write in my blog is equivalent to what I write for publication / presentation. I would also say that if you put links to some blog posts, it's hard to defend not putting links to others. But beauty (or spam) is in the eye of the beholder. My posts on eLearning 2.0 and eLearning 1.3 I think are in the good stuff category. So, maybe it's just because I was the one to provide the links? Actually, I'm not getting it - what's spam about this? Is there some kind of guideline for what is considered okay or not?

pegj said...

As your blogroll shows, there are plenty of e-learning resources available, and something like bloglines gives you the chance of keeping an eye on them.

But in saying that, via :e-LearningNow: we are doing some experimentation with wikis to determine if they are better way of delivering content.