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I believe that learning is really all about trust.

 

Words written on a website or piece of paper can say anything. Whether or not we take them on board and learn from them really depends on how much we believe what they are saying is true. And whether or not we believe them is about our personal relationship with the person we think authored them.


Wikipedia

So why do people trust the web? Let’s take Wikipedia as an example. The entry about elearning in Wikipedia was first created by Hannes Hirzel in 2002. Since then, it has had hundreds of users creating hundreds of changes to the document. Hannes himself gave up editing in 2005 (after 59 edits) but a user called WeisheitSuchen has continued edit the document since racking up 67 edits from 2007 to 2010.

 


So, it would be fair to say that the page about eLearning on Wikipedia has been thoroughly discussed, debated and changed by a wide variety of people for a long period of time. Does this mean it is more trust-worthy (and therefore learnable) than other web pages? Probably. I personally don’t particularly trust the pseudo-anonymous Wikipedia contributors as individuals. As a group though, I would say that they confer a certain level of trust-worthiness.

However, this is not the real reason why I trust what is written on the Wikipedia page. There’s another level of editorial control over Wikipedia documents that isn’t immediately obvious. Remember, we didn’t search Wikipedia to find the page on eLearning, we searched Google.


Google PageRank

Google ranks web pages according to an algorithm invented by Larry Page whilst he was a PhD student at Stanford University called PageRank. The basic idea is that web pages get ranked more highly for a particular search term if they are more linked to by other pages on the web.

Through my use of Google over the years, I’ve come to trust that their PageRank algorithm is correctly ranking pages by trustworthiness. It is not perhaps because I am consciously thinking that all those votes from all those different web users mean that everyone has agreed that the Wikipedia page for eLearning is very trustworthy. It’s just that from my own experience, I trust Google to serve up the goods.

So we see several layers of trust have been established here; but perhaps only one really counts in the end, our faith in Google. That trust is underpinned by the human editing power of Wikipedia and the human linking power of other web page authors who link to the Wikipedia page.


Learning in the Social Web

The web is now a complex mixture of search algorithms that reflect human ‘voting’ and actual human editing and linking. The way we learn online is dependent on these linkages and we are contributing to them all the time as we use the social web.

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Tags: Elearning, Google, PageRank, Social, Trust, Wikipedia

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