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They have become prominent places for online information seeking, especially since answered questions remain available in the website’s database (for everybody, not only for community members) and can be retrieved also through search engines.
Online social spaces, where users can exchange information, opinions and resources, have achieved wide popularity and are gaining attention in many research fields, including education.
Their actual potential support to learning, however, still requires investigation, especially because portals can widely differ as concerns purpose and internal structure.
It is therefore necessary to investigate the potential of different types of social spaces in order to highlight their possible contribution to improve and innovate education.
In this paper, we take into consideration a kind of social space that has so far been scarcely considered in the educational field, that is, question answering (QA), with the aim to understand if informal learning opportunities are actually provided by such online environments.
We chose the Languages section for our analysis, because languages are a study subject, but they are also used in everyday life to communicate in the current globalized world.
This fact provides the opportunity for YA users to ask both academic and very practical questions, leaving aside the kind of vague, opinion-oriented questions (usually called “factoids” in the literature ) that are often diffused within other topics.
Social QA services have been widely developing in the past decade, with the mission to be places where everybody can contribute what they know, because everybody, not only teachers and experts, has some knowledge to share .
Such services are also viewed as an expression of the collective intelligence of all of their users . Answers (YA), which is currently one of the largest and most visited, are extremely popular, with hundreds of thousands of users and new questions every month .
Their learning potential, however, cannot be taken for granted just because learning has long been recognized as social in nature.
Social spaces can widely differ as concerns aims, operation and internal structure, and all of these factors affect their usability and affordances.