[thelist] The myth of Common Knowledge

Joel D Canfield joel at spinhead.com
Mon Oct 2 09:30:34 CDT 2006

> What do you think?

Excellent idea. 

Here's my real-world experience from a slightly different perspective:
I've been using spreadsheet software since the invention of the PC; MS
Excel since v2 for DOS - but I was self-taught. When I instituted our MS
Office training program at work, I reviewed some excellent training
materials, and learned surprising things in the earliest chapters, aimed
at complete newbies. Advanced users who attended the 101 class found the
same thing.

It seems that many of us here on thelist are primarily self-taught.
(That may be old knowledge.) It also seems to me that we have a pendulum
swing of these 'frequently asked [this month] questions.'

Sometimes those who've been around a while already know what pitfalls
the new developer is going to run into. But sometimes, it's the new
developer with their fresh perspective who is in the best position to
write a tip about how you shouldn't test for "a = b" when you meant to
test for "a == b", for instance.

One of the biggest failures I've seen in training, both classroom and
individual, is the trainer's assumptions about the pupil's knowledge:
exactly the syndrome you mention.

We might just have the greatest collective knowledge of web development
in existence right here on thelist. If someone venturing into the waters
today had access to a pool of obvious-to-me info, it could trim a lot of
time off their learning curve, and just maybe produce a better
next-generation of developers.

As a father of five, I've learned that sometimes the best training is to
answer the same questions over and over and over until the pupil
internalizes it. Yeah, my dad's favorite phrase was 'look it up!' when
we asked what a word meant, or what something was, or how it worked. But
he always spent the time to make sure we found our answers. There was a
balance between the extremes of "do it yourself" and spoon-feeding us
the answers.

I for one would be glad to take the moments it takes to type up brief
tips as they popped into my head. At the very least, when someone asks
the same old question, I can point them to the magic list of common
knowledge, instead of typing out the answer one more time. And, if my
tip is in an editable archive, others can expand and expound so it
gradually becomes the *best* answer, instead of deteriorating from a
really good explanation to a brief description to an incomplete rushed

I'm probably also driven slightly by a desire to give back to evolt.org
'cause it's about 67% responsible for the web dev knowledge I own, such
as it is.

Count me in.


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