The purpose of this paper is to get a first approximation of the usefulness of online forums with regard to information seeking and knowledge generation.
This study captures the characteristics of knowledge generation by examining the pragmatics and types of information needs of posted questions and by investigating knowledge related characteristics of discussion posts as well as the success of communication. Three online forums were examined. The data set consists of 55 threads, containing 533 posts which were categorized manually by two researchers.
Results show that questioners often ask for personal estimations. Information needs often aim for actionable insights or uncertainty reduction. With regard to answers, factual information is the dominant content type and has the highest knowledge value as it is the strongest predictor with regard to the generation of new knowledge. Opinions are also relevant, but in a rather subsequent and complementary way. Emotional aspects are scarcely observed. Overall, results indicate that knowledge creation predominantly follows a socio-cultural paradigm of knowledge exchange.
Although the investigation captures important aspects of knowledge building processes, the measurement of the forums’ knowledge value is still rather limited. Success is only partly measurable with the current scheme. The central coding category “new topical knowledge” is only of nominal value and therefore not able to compare different kinds of knowledge gains in the course of discussion.
The investigation reaches out beyond studies that do not consider that the role and relevance of posts is dependent on the state of the discussion. Furthermore, the paper integrates two perspectives of knowledge value: the success of the questioner with regard to the expressed information need and the knowledge building value for communicants and readers.
This investigation is part of a research project sponsored by the German Institute for International Educational Research.
Griesbaum, J., Mahrholz, N., von Löwe Kiedrowski, K. and Rittberger, M. (2015), "Knowledge generation in online forums: a case study in the German educational domain", Aslib Journal of Information Management, Vol. 67 No. 1, pp. 2-26. https://doi.org/10.1108/AJIM-09-2014-0112
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