Improving social capital for learning


This study gives insight into how people learn to become Wikipedia editors, highlighting the emerging roles and responsibilities.


Wikipedia is one of the front line ‘go to’ sources of information that influences and informs contemporary life. Unlike conventional encyclopaedias, Wikipedia is continually edited through the unseen actions of over 29 million volunteer editors. Almost anyone with internet access can volunteer to edit, yet people are seldom financially compensated for their work. Rewards are focused around the complex motivations to contribute. These emerging ways of working raise questions about the different ways knowledge can be generated, who contributes, and how they develop the ability to become contributors.

The ability to contribute to, and influence, socially held online knowledge can be viewed as a basic human right. In a democracy everyone should have the ability/responsibility as custodians of collective knowledge. To support people in learning how to edit wiki pages, the Wikimedia Foundation began a programme of editathon events. These events are informal, face-to-face workshops where people learn how to become an editor. This study gives insight into how people learn to become Wikipedia editors, highlighting the emerging roles and responsibilities. Three research questions include:

  1. Do editathon events support the development of social capital?
  2. How do people self‐organise learning and knowledge development in an editathon?
  3. What are the new roles and responsibilities for knowledge emerging?

This project is also aligned to the Professional and Digital Learning research programme in IET.

The role of IET

IET helped to evaluate the impact of these editathons, leading to a range of insights and follow-up publications.


A range of publications followed the outcomes of this project:

  1. Littlejohn, Allison; Hood, Nina; Rehm, Martin; McGill, Lou; Rienties, Bart and Highton, Melissa (2019). Learning to become an online editor: the editathon as a learning environment. Interactive Learning Environments (Early Access).
  2. Hood, Nina and Littlejohn, Allison (2018). Hacking History: Redressing Gender Inequities on Wikipedia Through an Editathon. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 19(5) pp. 203–217.
  3. Littlejohn, Allison and Hood, Nina (2018). Becoming an online editor: perceived roles and responsibilities of Wikipedia editors. Information Research, 23(1), article no. paper 784.
  4. Highton, M.; Littlejohn, A.; Rehm, M.; Hood, N. and Rienties, B. (2016). Learning to Develop Open Knowledge: Improving social capital for learning: The Edinburgh editathon. In: The Edinburgh Editathon, Open Educational Resources Conference OER16, 19-20 Apr 2016, Edinburgh, UK.



  • University of Edinburgh


  • University of Edinburgh