Stack Overflow as OER EdTech?

While this may sound “out of left field”, I find that it’s worthy of thoughtful discussion among members of the OE movement.

(For those who don’t know Stack Overflow: it’s the dominant way for software developers can find answers to pointed questions, in a model explicitly (and accurately) described as “Just-in-Time Learning”.)

So, here are some pieces of the puzzle:

Prosus has built a significant presence on the enterprise side with a focus on the future of workplace learning. Prosus reaches 90% of the Fortune 100 across its corporate learning companies including Stack Overflow, Skillsoft, Udemy and Codecademy.

  • They plan to use Kiwix (@Anthere) for offline access. Stack Overflow wants to make it easier to code in the Arctic or prison - The Verge
  • This approach to learning is much more about “on-the-job self-training” and L&D (Learning & Development) than about educational systems. That might mean a lot to the Future of Learning.
  • There are also intriguing developments with Microsoft owning Github and LinkedIn, for instance.
  • Perhaps most importantly for us, as a movement with an obvious focus on OER, content on Stack Overflow is licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA. Case Studies/ - Creative Commons
  • As far as I’m concerned (and I realize others might disagree), it means that the millions of answers on Stack’s sites become OERs as soon as they’re used in educational contexts.

Now, I’m not saying that Stack will suddenly take over our scene, that they’ll buy Course Hero, or that there’s anything wrong with what they’ve been doing. I’m simply raising the point that it might be useful to explore the impact of such trends. We often discuss educational systems (whether they’re primary/secondary (aka “K-12” in Anglocentric North America) or post-secondary). In some educational systems, workplace training becomes increasingly important.

All this to say… Should we welcome Stack in our fold? What advice do we have for them? What inspiration can we derive from them?

I agree with this statement. More and more, individuals will need to take on responsibility for their own learning and up-skilling. Many of us already do so. Equipping and empowering others with tools and strategies to engage in architecting their own learning pathways seems like an idea ready-made for OEGlobal to support. Keeping learning in open spaces is paramount and demonstrating how to do so should be the mantra.

Good idea. Not out of left field at all. Thanks for sharing it.


Thank you kindly for your reply, @davidp. Especially given the inspiration you’ve given many of us.
In terms of those tools and strategies, I find that a lot can be done with the L&D world, especially when it comes to LXD (Learning Experience Design). For instance, the Government of Canada has a fascinating initiative in GCshare. While it does focus on sharing OERs for workplace training, it comes with a set of tools and strategies, embedded in a distinctive approach.
Developing an open educational resource repository for the public sector with an inclusive lens | by ksenia cheinman | GCshare | Medium

Also, there are useful parallels in the Open Recognition world, especially in groups like Keep Badges Weird.

So, again, thanks for chiming in, David. I sure hope OEG members can have an impact on organizational learning… and learning organizations.

My pleasure.

In the context of open recognition here is a contribution that is being made by my colleagues in the Resilience by Design Lab at Royal Roads University. It is an open competency framework for climate adaptation (CC-licensed) that we are currently upgrading to v2 to account for additional technical domains of competence for climate action.

There are also CC-licensed course materials to go with the framework that currently reside in the BCcampus open library.

The whole notion of open competency frameworks is another trajectory for the open community and provides a bridge to working with industry and business in a way that supports learners.

My friend and colleague Steve Forth has written some great stuff about open competency models and their need to be CC-licensed. See here: Introducing Open Competency Models — Ibbaka

And, our latest project which combines both pieces was just announced by Future Skills Centre…

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I agree with @davidp on a “not out of left field” assessment. I almost expect when I do a web search on a web technology "how to do ____ " or a specific error message how often the results end up in a Stack Overflow discussion.

Yet it’s less than providing absolute answers as one needs a bit of literacy in sorting out responses that are not applicable and weighing differing opinions/suggestions.

The elements work well- participants can ask anything, there are rewards for answering (a reputation system), and affordances to find related content.

I would add that the ecosystem is broader than technology, Stack overflow is one (active) examples of the Stack Exchange platform, see this broad collection – really good examples of what has always been called interest driven communities.

Look at the one for Bicycles

Bicycles Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people who build and repair bicycles, people who train cycling, or commute on bicycles. It only takes a minute to sign up.

and how clear it is what happens:

Anyone can ask a question
Anyone can answer a question
The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

StackExchanges do a good job of suggesting other places in the broader network to be active.

All in the wide open.

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Agreed! And thanks for sharing.
Here in Quebec, given our peculiar approach to competency-based education, there’s clear interest from people developing projects in workplace learning, often in partnership with the workforce ministry (as opposed to the ministry of higher education).
According to Yves Otis (a friend whose expertise in the domain I value deeply), work done in Quebec’s mining industry could serve as an inspiration for others.
Explore les mines
(Done with the province’s CPMT. Valorisation des métiers et professions en demande - Commission des partenaires du marché du travail (

For people focused on OERs, there’s obvious potential from the geeky side of things (using the Semantic Web to map competencies and resources together through stable ontologies). In terms of pathways (whether or not they’re built on OERs), a lot of the work can happen through what Don Presant calls “MiniMaps” which run several layers deeper (and higher) than the type of content sequencing often done by ADDIE-influenced Instructional Designers.

Agreed that it’s not just about tech. Listening to the interview (in which multiple Stack Exchange sites are mentioned) I get the impression that the company’s focus on tech-savvy or tech-like answers is core to their philosophy. Not only does Nilay Patel ask specific philosophical questions about such, it strongly reminds me of William Perry’s Scheme of Intellectual and Ethical Development. They strongly emphasize questions which users deem to have a correct answer.

As befits JIT learning?

We don’t discuss “Just-in-Case Learning” that frequently. To me, it goes remarkably well with the model we have for Higher Education. And complex topics which may not (currently) have anything resembling a correct answer. Many useful workplace skills take part in such a system, including “Critical Thinking” and even “Digital Literacy”. Very hard to develop those from answers on Stack Exchange sites… in large part because most people wouldn’t realize that there are important questions to ask.

So, as Stack CEO Prashanth Chandrasekar puts it, the system works for answers on the “objective” end of the spectrum. Of course, there’s still a sociological critique of meritocracy involved. It’s just easier to agree on the usefulness of Stack-style answers in comparison with, say, Quora or Discord.

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Appreciate all the links and perspectives. There are real opportunities for open thinking, well beyond the starting point of academic content / tools and progressive learning / teaching practices.

This would be a good time to cast a wider net and explore all the hooks and linkages and then pursue some good ones in real depth – using the MiniMaps idea that Don Presant has proposed.

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So, is Stack Overflow still the minefield it’s been famous for? I figured out reading responses and later from folks in courses that if you couldn’t find your answer already done, I better not post b/c if you were new, you were slammed.
It’s been a while (now I’m playing with Moodle and their online support is awesome…) so maybe things have changed, but to me, their philosophy was just a tad more exclusive and hostile than most OER

It might be, my range of experience does not really give me confidence to make an overall statement. Yes, if you are new and ask something already asked they seem quick to let you know that. How that is message may vary.

What you described happened to me… in 1994 on a email listserv for people using Macromedia Director, which I recall it was called being “flamed.”

I’m not ready to say this environment is an answer to anything, more interested in applying what works there when it works now.

The same environment of having a place to ask/answer questions, upvoting, could happen right here (I am biased as that’s my interest), but what if a Stack Exchange was set up for open education? What would make it work (it calls for a visit to Area 51!)

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Oooh, that is intriguing!

FWIW, there’s already Open Data Stack Exchange (Beta):

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@enkerli, I have a longstanding interest in workplace training and education as such work was a focus of my career in the 80’s and 90’s. Including developing skills comepetency frameworks for air traffic control.

When I was at Creative Commons and developing the Creative Commons Certificate the design team (including @cogdog) considered adopting Stack Overflow as a way of surfacing participant questions and engaging current and alumni participants in generating answers. So it’s cool to see them surfacing more deliberately in the education space.

I really like @davidp’s comments that more and more, we’ll all need to take on responsibility for our own learning and up-skilling. And I’m totally aligned with @davidp’s statement that learning in open spaces is paramount.

In the spirit of out of left field I recently came across LearnCard which I found thought provoking . What if we worked together to give learners sovereignty, mobility and agency? What if learners could design their own desired competency frameworks for skills they wish to attain and then map their own progress?

Great to see this lively discussion.


Sounds like we’re on the same page about casting a wide net.
Just participated in an event by the ENCORE+ network. While some “usual suspects” were there (@EbbaOssiannilsson, @MWeller…), there were people whose names weren’t part of the obvious lists and I got the sense that there was some appetite for broader interactions.
In fact, a passing comment about HigherEd almost opened the door for thinking OE(R) beyond “education”. Maybe we could try to leverage Ivan Illich’s work on both Deschooling and PostDevelopment? Before the CoursehEra, there was something about Freire in Critical Pedagogy…

Useful question. Interestingly (and sadly) enough, @Anthere can attest to something like that in Wikipedia involvement… which is so far absent from other Wikimedia projects.

From the aforementioned interview, I get the impression that this set of potential issues is brushed under the rug based on the type of question Stack-style sites encourage.

Personally, I’ve found Quora to be much more toxic in this way. At least, early on. Some of it probably stems from half-digested “principles” like Eric Raymond’s (in)famous scheme on “smart” questions.

Since it sounds like we share some core values, I almost want to transform these into “How Might We” questions. (Call me playful.)
At the same time, I realize that many people may not share said values. In fact, some might not hold these values despite claims that they do! (Yes, I’ve been disillusioned by OpenWashing/fauxpen, around Nantes time.)

So… Maybe we can play another game. Closer to scenario planning? In that case, we might create openly accessible material to replace AdG’s classic…
Planning as Learning (

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Interestingly enough (or not), it sounds like the differences between early-1990s Internet and the current online worlds is coming back in vogue among people like the Association of Internet Researchers. For semi-obvious reasons, some of them are thinking about moving to the Fediverse. Hence my own toot about the difference between those flamewars and the toxic environments many now inhabit.

Do the answers of Stack’s sites only become OER when they’re used in educational contexts?

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You could argue both ways. For me, the mere visit to a StackExchange site creates an educational context (because I’m there to learn something). So StackExchange sites are an educational resource, even if they were never used beyond informal education. Next, if an educational resource is openly licensed, I’d call it OER.

My two cents, educational experts here may see it differently… :wink:

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My perception is similar.

Of course, there might be people in the OE world who will insist that OERs need to be created with the intention of getting use in educational contexts… and might restrict those to formal learning programs at accredited institutions. Haven’t heard so much from these people within our sphere. And I’m not completely sure what purpose a restrictive definition would serve. Learners and teachers frequently use material meant for other purposes. From literature in the Public Domain to blockbuster movies. The very notion of an “educational resource” might have been meant to overcome issues with “learning object”.

Guess we should all go back to the UNESCO recommendation. I mostly remember the breadth of the earlier definition, in the Paris Declaration, which listed several types of resources.

As a quick update…

  1. Open Educational Resources (OER) are learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under copyright that have been released under an open license, that permit no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation and redistribution by others.

Which doesn’t really solve the issue since “learning material” isn’t defined.
(The thrust of the recommendation does make it obvious that they didn’t mean that definition to be restrictive. It’s just that some minds are likely to stick to “the letter of the law” and claim that Stack answers aren’t learning material.)

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