Redesigning Wikipedia for Education: How to make Wikipedia articles better suited for learning?

Central Player

Jonas Elslander (Department of Social Informatics, Graduate School of Informatics, Kyoto University)
Adam Jatowt (Department of Social Informatics, Graduate School of Informatics, Kyoto University)
Makoto P. Kato (Department of Social Informatics, Graduate School of Informatics, Kyoto University)



Wikipedia is one of the most visited websites and a prime example of successful collaboration of multiple users. It constitutes of an encyclopedic body of knowledge that is frequently visited by users searching information on unknown and difficult topics. However, despite having satisfactory level of accuracy, Wikipedia articles are still not useful for learning purposes. There are several sub-problems that hinder a learning process based on Wikipedia.

First, many articles on technical, scientific or just complex topics contain lots of expert vocabulary and lack any introduction necessary for non-expert users. For example, the following passage is on the top of the Wikipedia article on anomer:

“In carbohydrate chemistry, an anomer is a special type of epimer. It is one of two stereoisomers of a cyclic saccharide that differs only in its configuration at the hemiacetal or hemiketal carbon, also called the anomeric carbon. Anomerization is the process of conversion of one anomer to the other. Anomerization is the anomeric analogue of epimerization…”

Second, although the articles are interconnected by links and grouped into categories, the links and the groupings do not represent educational trails neither structured knowledge that users could utilize in order to assimilate knowledge step by step. Thus navigating Wikipedia with the objective of acquiring information is difficult and users often lose their viewpoints or the sense of relation when browsing different documents. For example, in order to understand the whole Wikipedia article about Ruby on Rails, one needs to have substantial knowledge of MVC programming design and the Ruby programming language, which in turn requires the understanding of object oriented programming principles.

Third, articles are focused on specific entities making it difficult to make comparisons across different entities and topics or to infer information on their inter-relations. For example, to compare the political, social and economical impact triggered by World War I and World War II, one needs to understand the articles on both wars and manually identify and compare their implications.

The causes for these problems lie in the collaborative character of Wikipedia and its encyclopedic purpose. Collaborative writing of articles on difficult topics (e.g., medicine, law, finance, econometrics) results in a “expert-corrects-experts” situation in which accuracy and correctness are preferred over simplicity and generalization, which are necessary for effective learning, especially at the beginning of the studying process. On the other hand, encyclopedias traditionally are good for checking particular information such as information on some concrete entity or a specific aspect thereof, while they are not effective for cross-topic or associative learning.

In this theme participants will a) study the problems that Wikipedia imposes on the readers, b) identify the causes and c) propose solutions for improving the editing process and constructing systems for learning support. The objective of this project is to design feasible solutions that assist learners in effectively acquiring knowledge through collaborative cyclopedias.

Education Goal

The participants will be able to learn how to determine and define particular problems, how to identify their causes and how to propose effective solutions. We will provide them with methods used in design theory.

We will also show them one solution: Simple Wikipedia, a project focusing on constructing a more comprehensible Wikipedia, that nevertheless could not solve the above stated problem due to its relatively small scale. The participants will be able to analyze the way in which Simple Wikipedia was designed and the reasons for its failure.

The proposed problem is quite complex as its solution requires understanding of the way in which collaborative systems work as well as of the process that governs human comprehension and learning. We hope the participants can demonstrate high creativity in proposing effective and out of the box solutions that would make Wikipedia and other similar collaborative knowledge bases useful for learning.

Design Theories

We will eludicate design theory techniques such as listing the stakeholders and incorporated processes, defining the items to develop and desired solutions, trend analysis, etc. By means of presentations, examples and hard-copy explanations, we wish to submerge the participants in the mindset that is characteristic of designing solutions.

Design Methods

By using tools such as brain storming, surveying, case studies, etc., the participants will apply the design methodology to obtain answers to concepts raised by the design theory listed above.

The evaluation of the presented solutions will be conducted by means of expert discussions including cognitive walkthroughs, SWOT-analysis and the evaluation of the followed design process


1st Day

  • Morning
    • Introductory presentations: field overview, problem exploration and explanation of related knowledge.
  • Afternoon
    • Start of design thinking: how to solve the problem with the help of offered tools?

2nd Day

  • Morning
    • Continued design thinking.
    • Start of concept design: how to materialize the ideas constructed in the design thinking phase?
  • Afternoon
    • Continued concept design: evaluating the candidate solutions.
    • Start of presentation preparation: how to communicate the created concept designs?

3rd Day

  • Morning
    • Continued concept design.
    • Continued presentation preparation.
  • Afternoon
    • Presentation by participating groups.


  • We conduct this theme in English.
  • You can make a presentation at the Day 3 in either English or Japanese.

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