Learning and voting

Have you ever seen an online learning system where participants are asked to give votes? In many cases there are votes or rates given for learning content. In an extreme example students are asked to give votes on the best discussion notes posted to some online learning environment.

There has been discussion on having rating system for the learning resources posted to the LeMill community (LeMill is a web community for finding, authoring and sharing learning resources). People say that this will make it easier to find quality learning content from the site.

I have a problem with voting and rating – especially in the case of learning. I think in most cases voting is far too simple way to make decisions on quality (or almost on anything).

We easily think that voting equals to democracy. Is it really that simple? No, I don’t think so. In a good democratic process there is at first discussion and debate on the issues. If there is a need for making decisions on the issues people are free to make proposals from the points presented in the discussion. If there are several competing proposals, we may vote on them. Still, voting should be the ultimate mean to reach the decision. If we may reach consensus we should never vote.

I have a theory why voting and rating is so popular in many online environments. The reason is that programmers are lazy. They want to have easy to implement solutions, and computers just are very good in calculating (or should we say in computing). Programming rating and voting systems are easy to do.

Design of good (and democratic) software for discourse, discussion and debate is much more challenging task. The best computer tools for this are still very primitive: threaded online forums, blogs and wikis.

To enhance (democratic) rational and scientific discussion we need software that makes is easy to present arguments and come-up with conclusions. In a case of science and learning we shouldn’t be afraid if people do not agree. There isn’t need for consensus. Different paradigms living same time should be accepted, but presented openly so that they can be challenged at any point. This is our aim with the Fle3 learning environment (and there will be a new version, soon!) In many other areas of life – organizations, politics, business – you must make decisions. Even in these cases you should vote only if you can’t reach consensus in a discussion. In business the decisions are of course made by those with the right and the responsibility to make decisions.

What about finding quality learning resources? How this should be implemented if not with rating? I would try to develop tools for people to talk about the resources and by helping them to find quality content based on the authors (resources made by X are always good). Especially in a multi-cultural and multi-lingual environment – such as LeMill – this seems to be the only “democratic” way to value content.

Anyway, I am going to vote next Sunday. We are having parliament election. Voting in a representative democracy is another story. I am happy that we have many good candidates. From the online candidate video’s I like the best this one (actually, he is pretty good candidate, too).

3 thoughts on “Learning and voting

  1. What an interesting video! I hardly recognise it as poltical campaigning. I wish there was an English transcrip so I could look further, but I can already recognise a modern, sharp, perhaps progresive politics in it!


  2. Teemu, you have fallen exactly into the space that I am exploring. From a career in corporate elearning design and development, I'm involved in academic research about deliberative processes and the learning that is required for citizens to contribute rationally to discourse processes like Citizens' Juries. It's definitely about consensus-building rather than debate-and-vote. Like you, I think that online environments are not entirely helpful in their current form. I encourage you to continue to think in this area.


  3. Leigh, The themes are: Stopping the climate change, fighting for the welfare state, humane foreign policy. Sounds like your candidate? :-)Ron, Thank you. Actually, I think that also in many "smart companies" the culture of discussion and the consensus building is one of the factors behind their success. In Finland we always make fun of the Swedish "diskutera" culture (diskutera=discussion). We want to see ourselves as men and women who get things done! What we easily forget is that Finland, anyways use to be 700 years part of the Swedish empire and I think (hope) that we Finns learnt something during these years. Still, if we look for smart and successful companies the ration is something like 10-1 for Sweden. Why?


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