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Using the Expert Exchange model in e-learning solutions

First published: November 06, 2000

(Expert Exchange examples: Experts-Exchange.com, Epinions, ExpertCentral.com, Abuzz.com, Exp.com, etc.)

Surprised? Wondering what's the connection between Expert Exchanges (EE's) and e-learning? To bring out the connections, let's start with some social learning theory basics.

In The Social Life of Information, John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid bought out the notion that learning is a demand driven social activity that results in the formation of an identity for the learner within his community. There are three notions mentioned in this view:

  1. Learning takes place from the demand-side rather than from the supply-side.
    e-learning view:
    Provide mechanisms for creating a demand, just like Amazon.com provides mechanisms for creating a demand for books and CDNow creates a demand for buying CD's--hint! hint! (We will tackle this issue with our December theme!)
  2. Learning takes place within a community of learners.
    e-learning view:
    See our October theme on creating and sustaining a successful online community
  3. Learning results in the formation an identity for the learner.
    e-learning view:
    Create mechanisms for building identities. Although interactions in online communities do provide such mechanisms, another method/activity provides a more direct notion of identity creation--Expert Exchanges!

Now, this notion of Expert Exchanges is not new. It has been used in Knowledge Management (KM) solutions for sometime now. But it is only recently that these solutions are been referred together with learning:

Some KM Case studies:

Confused? Not to worry! As usual we have outlined a process that will take your on a learning journey. If you don't have the time, you can download our white paper on this topic. But do post your comments on this topic.

1. The context

Question: What are Expert Exchanges?

Answer: Systems that allow people to share their expertise with one another. Examples include websites like Experts-Exchange, Epinions, ExpertsCenral, Abuzz, Exp.com, etc. The latest addition to this family has been Yahoo! Experts

Question: Why would anyone want to part with their knowledge and experience?

Answer: Ah! The million dollar question. Why indeed? Well, it seems that they do it to get a dose of "egoboo". This term was used in a Wired article titled "Revenge of the Know-It-Alls". The article explored the motivation issues associated with such knowledge-sharing. And these will be the same issues that will govern the creation and formation of identities in e-learning solutions as well.

Question: How does participation in these exchanges affect a person a whole?

Answer: In the Wired article, the author mentions an instance when an Epinionator had to post a review:

"If I review a cooking tool", explains the woman, " I might spend the whole day cooking with it, to put myself in the place of someone who'll try it when they read my review....It was funny, because I was experiencing it on one level, and on another level, I was storing away ideas for future Epinions." Her new life as a critic, she says, is always "there in the background." (p.152).

Imagine similar levels of change after participation in an e-learning scenario. Hmmm! Point to ponder.

Additional Reading:

2. Some Strategies for providing "egoboo"

Thomas Davenport and Laurence Prusak, in their book, Working Knowledge: How organizations manage what they know, relate such exchanges to knowledge exchanges. Such knowledge exchanges, they say, can be studied if we consider them to be a part of the knowledge market. And, like in any market, there are buyers, sellers and brokers. The buyers in such a market would the ones who have a problem and seek a solution. The sellers are the ones who satisfy the buyers' demand by providing solutions to their problems. The brokers are the ones who bring the buyers and sellers together (Experts-Exchange, Epinions, etc.).

Now, even if there are buyers, sellers and brokers to get them together, the knowledge market will not sustain itself if there are no forces acting on it, i.e., if there are no motives for participation. Davenport and Prusak identify three factors that drive knowledge markets: 1) Reciprocity, 2) Repute, and 3) Altruism.

Out of the three, the "Repute" factor is the strongest, and most persuasive--provides the strongest dose of "egoboo".

Egoboo factors in Experts-Exchange:

Egoboo factors in Epinions:

Additional reading

3. Our White Paper

Have no time to go through all these resources? Well don't worry--we have an irresistible white paper that synthesizes all the above factors. Download the pdf file (12 pages, 68Kb). You will need the Acrobat Reader to read the file.