Monday, 4 July 2011

Fake Learning: Shortcuts Don't Always Exist

" #softwaretesting #testing "

Excuse the mini-rant...

I seem to have a love-hate relationship with different Q&A forums.

I like to give input on them, to share my perspective, with the hope that my take, however left-field or mundane, might help the questioner and all those taking part. I don't consider myself the guru - I'm just providing one piece in a thousand piece jigsaw - rather than have the whole picture on the front of the box!

Some people are out there asking questions in a genuinely investigative way, searching, pushing the boundaries of their own experience and forming opinions on what they find. That is fantastic, I love the energy (I won't say passion :) ), the willingness to go on a mental adventure, get out of your own mental comfort zone and see what you find and how you might use it.

For examples of thought-provoking questions look at the questions from Phil, here, or Shmuel, here, or Shrini, here.

There are no right or wrong answers - but every answer might help you learn something new.

Comfort Zone
But, on the other side of the coin there is the search for information without the searching or learning. This is definitely a case of not pushing ones own mental comfort zone.

Examples of staying within ones own mental zone - questions of the form:
What is the (insert one of: "best, most effective") (insert one of: "tool, process, method, etc") for (insert a general non-specific context or situation)?
These types of question want to bypass the learning journey. It's a pay-per-view approach - without the payment!

That may be ok if all you want to do is compile a list (the 21 capital coach journey in one week), but you must ask yourself how that information might be used - whether to get a flavour of something or to claim to "know" about something are two different purposes.

It's sort of the difference between learning by rote and information gathering (with hypothesis formation) -> ooh, scripted learning vs exploratory learning, or testing with your eyes wide open vs eyes wide shut!

Fake Learning?
The essence of these types of questions - for me - is an attempt to shortcut learning - to shortcut the experimentation,  digesting the information, hypothesis (ideas) forming and making new discoveries (at least to yourself). Shortcutting this (and purporting to have gone through it) is something I think of as Fake Learning.

Several people highlighted the problem recently:

  • Myself on twitter, here.
  • Phil Kirkham on twitter, here.
  • Michael Bolton on twitter, here.
  • Rosie Sherry in her blog, here.

No, not really. Am I (and maybe others) going through that "hate" part of the cycle right now. Maybe yes.

But it doesn't stop my own searching and willingness to help others along the way - so I'm still on the lookout for interesting and thought-provoking questions - that doesn't mean I always have the time to respond and get involved myself!

But if I'm asked directly for help, I'll always try and help. It fits in with my testing motto too!

Mini-rant over. :)

Beware of Fake Learning!


  1. You make some excellent points. It frustrates me to see so many forum users ask and re-ask the same questions without any attempt to find the answer themselves.

    At least make an attempt at finding the answer to your dilemma first. You never know, you may even learn something!

  2. I was going to have a rant as well but you beat me to it ! Moderating the STC can be depressing sometimes - today was the 50th time I've removed a 'smoke vs sanity' question but what really depressed me was that someone had already posted a reply which chastised the poster for not knowing the basic testing terminology to know the difference

    Sill, there are anough gems to make it worthwhile

  3. Excellent post Simon! I like to think of things in terms of problems. If something isn't a problem for someone, then why would I bother wasting my time with it. If something is a problem, I can gather a list of my problems and begin picking them off one by one.

    Sometimes in such cases, it helps to do a bit of reading online, to see if others have been doing similar things. For me though, what really makes me happy, is when I can think of something unique (or at least in my context) that changes things for the better. That, I'd say is much more worthwhile than the fake learning that you describe.

    That being said, you get these kinds of people in all career paths; sometimes they even becom very successful at it. Sales type, who are good at the hype, and talk the talk, covering their tracks of fakeness.

    Nice rant, I'll contain myself from jumping into one much further, which I've noticed I've begun doing :-)

    Thanks for sharing.