Learning in the Wild: Coding Reddit for Learning and Practice

Snoo; the Reddit alien

In a short period of time, social media sites like Reddit have become important arenas for open online discussion, social interaction, knowledge and resource sharing and informal learning. This informal learning occurs outside traditional classroom environments; without course instructors, predefined syllabi or prerequisite core readings. Instead, learning ‘in the wild’ on social media is crowdsourced, with self-motivated participant members asking questions, debating, presenting information, and arguing about answers openly, for all to discover and contribute to. And while learning has always taken place outside the confines of the classroom, new open, online forums like Reddit point to a wider range of lifelong learning and teaching opportunities that warrant more in-depth analysis from researchers and practitioners.

In a new paper, “Learning in the Wild: Coding Reddit for Learning and Practice”, which was published in the Proceedings of the 51st Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS-51), we report on the development of an 8-point coding schema for content analysis of online informal learning practices on social media sites such as Reddit. Today, Reddit maintains a relative stronghold as the go-to self-organized online community for people (experts and non-experts alike) looking to stay informed about current affairs, social events, niche subjects, topics, and Internet subcultures. As such, we set out to explore the range and types of exploratory talk, behaviors and dialogue occurring across four different Reddit subreddit communities: ‘AskAcademia’, ‘Ask_Politics’, ‘askscience’, and ‘AskHistorians’. The paper describes our team’s multi-stage iterative process of code development, refinement, and the schema testing and evaluation process undertaken with independent coders. It contributes to our understanding of conversational learning practices, and to content analysis for online social learning and online learning communities more broadly.We invite other researchers, educators and practitioners to test out and apply our coding schema to their research on informal learning in other social media. Open, online social media sites like Reddit are novel because they can simultaneously foster opportunities for individual learning and help self-motivated learners organize online communities of practice. These online collaborative environments shed light on a much wider trend of lifelong and lifewide learning processes that now call for greater research attention.

The results show that our proposed coding schema can capture a diversity of informal learning processes, exploratory talk and conversational dialogue across Reddit’s open online environment. For example, distribution results from ‘AskHistorians’ and ‘askscience’ subreddits show that online conversations and social learning connect people, ideas and resources. For both of these cases we found there to be a high proportion of transactional Q&A comments (information seeking code 6, providing resources code 7). Conversely, the ‘ask_Politics’ distribution results show a greater proportion of negative socializing (code 4) and explanations with disagreement (code 1), suggesting that engaging in debates and sharing alternative viewpoints can also nurture self-directed process of learning (and unlearning). Finally, coding results of ‘AskAcademia’ show the career-focused subreddit to be far more personal, with a higher proportion of positive, supportive socializing (code 2 and code 5) occurring between participant members.

The research presented in this paper is part of a five-year SSHRC-funded initiative on Learning Analytics for the Social Media Age (#pLASMA). For more information, check out our conference presentation slides here.