Request for learning material, from what I gather, is a request for links or pointers to offsite learning materials, or books, courses, etc. In fact, How do we feel about requests for learning materials? is defines it quite clearly.

That doesn't cover a request to be taught something, but there have been quite a few questions closed on here lately that use Request for learning materials as the justification. Here's an example from today – I'm not picking on that specific one; there have been many similar closures lately.

This site claims to be for Question & Answers – doesn't that translate to Ask and Learn? In the example above, the OP is simply asking a question about Linux internals and is hoping to learn from the answer; not asking for tutorials or learning materials as the closure reason states.

Here are some more examples:

  • Execute command on ranger selection is a good example.  It makes the strategic error of referring to a search for a tutorial, but then asks a fairly specific, bounded, well-scoped question.
  • What is the difference between Docker, LXD, and LXC? probably should have been closed as “too broad”, so it just got closed for the wrong reason.
  • Installing Wi-Fi drivers when no Ethernet connection is available was deleted by its author (so  most of you won’t be able to see it) after it was closed as a “request for learning materials”.  It’s not a great question, and it also commits the sin of mentioning the word “tutorial”, but it boils down to a reasonably specific question that is an amplified version of its title.
  • Sorting Words in Alphabetical Order made no mention of learning materials whatsoever, but was a plain old How do I? question asking how to sort into alphabetical order a text file dictionary with a slightly unusual structure containing pairs of English and Latin words.

Are we too trigger-happy with Request for learning materials?

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    Gareth, the question you linked to certainly seems like a legitimate question. It isn't a request for "learning materials". You say there have been other similar closures recently - feel free to add similar examples if you wish, and if you think it helps you make the point. I'm particularly interested in questions that have actually been closed. – Faheem Mitha Feb 11 '16 at 16:06
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    The example you cite certainly looks like a valid question and is in no way a request for learning materials. I haven't noticed any abuse but this does appear like an example of it. As Faheem said, it would be great if you could provide some more examples. There have been a total of 34 questions closed with that close reason in the past 90 days, which represent 5.88% of closed questions for that period. Hard to tell whether that's significant or not. – terdon Feb 11 '16 at 16:33
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    This is interesting. I've just ran a search for closed:yes and none of the questions are closed for this reason. I'm pretty certain that even in my old age that I haven't got the stage of making these things up - yet. My only thought is that someone starts a 'close' off with this reason and others then jump in with other closure reasons. Does UL show the last close reason or the majority? I'm going to keep an eye on close requests for now (that's all I can do really!). I might report back, or I might silently delete my post ;-) – garethTheRed Feb 11 '16 at 17:42
  • unix.stackexchange.com/questions/261616 currently has 2 votes for "Request for learning materials". It's a poor question, but it isn't a request for learning material. – garethTheRed Feb 11 '16 at 20:17
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    @garethTheRed The majority vote, unless a mod closed it for a different reason, etc. – muru Feb 12 '16 at 9:37
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    Thank you for this!  I’ve been meaning to raise this issue for a couple of weeks now, but I just never got a round tuit (all my tuits are hexagonal).  I added some examples to your (meta-)question.  These are just questions that actually got closed; I believe that there have been others that accumulated some Votes to Close as a “request for learning materials”, but not enough to get closed. – Scott Feb 14 '16 at 0:05
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    @Scott what on earth is a hexagonal tuit, and where can I get one? obligatory: youtube.com/watch?v=LVjWCwZ8MI8 – cat Feb 19 '16 at 0:43
  • @cat - a hex tuit is not a round tuit – garethTheRed Feb 25 '16 at 12:51
up vote 35 down vote accepted

I don't see how any of your examples were requests for learning materials.

Your original example, Please explain "kobject", is about to be closed again with various close reasons. While there may be a valid reason to close it, that is most certainly not that it's a request for learning materials. I'll be keeping an eye on it and will reopen if it is closed for that reason.

Choosing the right close reason is very important. This is true even for those cases where the question is complete crap and the site is better off without it.

Yes, one of the objectives of closing questions is to preserve the quality of the site. As far as that is concerned, one close reason is as good as another. However, an equally (at the very least) important objective of closing is to educate our users about the sort of questions we want/accept.

When we close with the wrong close message, we fail that objective. We are not helping new users understand the site, and will either drive them away in bafflement at our arcane rules, or suffer an incessant barrage of low quality questions since we didn't take the time to actually explain what was wrong with what they asked.

So yes, closing those questions as requests for learning materials when they clearly weren't is most certainly an abuse of the close reason. If none of the available close reasons are good enough, write your own. If you can't be bothered to spend a few seconds writing a custom close reason, then you probably shouldn't be voting to close in the first place.

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    Excellent summary of the issues. Clear and concise. A clear explanation of why a question was closed is indeed most important. However, it doesn't help that the close question template is somewhat limited. It really should be much more flexible. Also, the help should be clearer about what kind of questions are allowed. – Faheem Mitha Feb 16 '16 at 22:33
  • I voted to close Please explain “kobject” because it's off-topic, not because it's asking for learning materials (which it isn't). A kobject is an internal concept in the Linux kernel which is of interest only to programmers. This question belongs on Stack Overflow (where it might be killed off, not because it's off-topic, but because it's poorly researched, but that isn't a debate for this meta). – Gilles Feb 16 '16 at 23:21
  • @Gilles yes, that could make sense. As long as it's not closed as a request for learning materials, I have no objection to its being closed. – terdon Feb 17 '16 at 14:10
  • Incidentally, is there a reputation threshold below which it's impossible to write custom close reasons? If there is, I'm past it by now, but I seem to recall at one time being able to vote to close but unable to write a custom reason. – Wildcard Jan 23 at 1:23
  • @Wildcard I don't think so, but I'll check. – terdon Jan 23 at 1:24
  • @Wildcard prior to having the vote to close privilege, the custom close reason is just "Blatantly off-topic" in the flag dialog (which becomes the close dialog when you get the privilege). – Tiny Giant Jan 26 at 17:47
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    @Wildcard now that Tiny Giant reminded me, I did check on a site where I don't have close vote privileges and no, I couldn't use a custom value. Even so, in such cases, a custom mod flag would probably be best. My main problem with mis-using the close reasons is that they give wrong information to posters and don't help them understand our rules. – terdon Jan 26 at 17:58
  • s/probably shouldn't/shouldn't/ – Duncan X Simpson Feb 5 at 17:15

This can happen - I've had it happen to me on other SE site, even when the Q was clear that there was a request to have something explained, not a request for learning material. So it can probably happen here as well, my gut feel says "probably", and as @terdon says, it's extremely important if the OP feels the Q was unreasonably closed because that wasn't what they had wanted at all. @jasonwryan is also right, about people adopting canned answers for ease.

In cases like these, changing the wording is often very effective as well as minimal effort. Perhaps it would help to reword the canned reason. For example:

  • "external learning resources" rather that the vague sense of "anything that helps you learn". It's a semantic difference but might help.

  • "This appears to be a request to find an answer elsewhere rather than directly from members of the community"

  • "This appears to be a request for assistance in finding help elsewhere. If you have a specific question or issue, please reword the question to ask it directly from members of our community."

  • "This appears to be a request to locate educational material. Questions should focus on a specific point or issue, and not just seek learning materials."

Something like that might help. It might not be identical to other SE site wording but would be clearer - and much less open to misinterpretation/misuse (by anyone).

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    I think this would be a valuable change and I like the 3rd one, perhaps combined with the 2nd sentence of #4. ``This appears to be a request for assistance in finding help elsewhere. Questions should focus on a specific point or issue, and not just seek learning materials. If you have a specific question or issue, please reword the question to ask it directly from members of our community.'' – John Hascall Jan 26 at 23:19
  • This is indeed a very good suggestion, thanks! Do you think you could post it as a separate meta question to start the discussion? – terdon Jan 28 at 16:25
  • I think its best someone who knows the meta "in thinking" does so. I fall foul of question closes now and then which suggests I don't have quite enough of a grasp of the perspective, to suggest it. But if it has value, please do. – Stilez Jan 28 at 19:57
  • @John - I'd edit yours to take out the bit after the comma in the 2nd sentence about learning materials, which snuck in again :) Otherwise you reintroduce exactly the phrase that gets misused per the OP and kicked off this whole question. My sense is you can remove that entire clause (or even sentence?) and your wording won't be any less or miss anything important out. It actually doesn't add much. You want them to ask a specific issue if they have one, and ask the community the question itself, not just ask where else to find an answer. That puts the focus on what you actually want, and ... – Stilez Jan 30 at 23:16
  • avoids the phrase "learning material", which is much more open to individual interpretation. As that's the actual aim, just word it to say so plainly, which takes out a lot of the (possible mis-) interpretive aspects. – Stilez Jan 30 at 23:20

I wouldn't characterise the use of this close reason, or any of the others in the Off-Topic menu, for that matter, as abuse. It strikes me as the result of two, sometimes potentially related, issues.

The first is the constraints posed by the canned close reasons (and, yes, there is always the open-ended option where you can fill in your own, but people will almost always opt for the canned response¹); questions that don't fit comfortably into one of these reasons but perhaps include incidental phrases welcoming pointers to documentation, for example, will be pushed towards here. I know, I've done it, thinking "close enough..." The imperative, after all, is to close the question, not quibble about the semantics of why it was closed².

The second is human error. People just get it wrong, as in the example you linked to.

Neither case seems to be particularly vulnerable to abuse: whatever the reason chose by the initial voter, it still requires four others to agree to it and that threshold has obviously been deemed by the powers that be to be sufficient to ensure, in the majority of cases, that the question should actually be closed, whatever the reason chosen by the initiator.

The Reopen queue is also sufficiently quiet to suggest that there is no burning issue that needs to be addressed with respect to closing questions--again, irrespective of the reason chosen.

tl;dr Nope, as you were...


¹ There are bound to be some stats that could illuminate that point, somewhere...
² This isn't to suggest that I support the indiscriminate closing of questions, rather that I make a judgement call about the overall quality of the question and whether it meets the threshold; once I have made that decision, I then start looking around for the correct justification.

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    The close reason is extremely important. It is the best and simplest way to explain to the OP what was wrong with their question. The objective is not only to close bad questions but also to explain to the OP why they were bad so they can learn and understand our rules. Closing with a reason that doesn't apply because we're too lazy to choose the right one is most certainly abuse. – terdon Feb 16 '16 at 16:35
  • @terdon sure: that isn't what I said. What I was saying is that the reason is not always a perfect fit; because the canned responses are not exhaustive and people don't often use the custom field. – jasonwryan Feb 16 '16 at 17:14
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    I understand this and (despite the evidence to the contrary that I presented in my answer) I had actually read the footnote. I just feel that choosing a close reason that doesn't fit is very bad practice. Which is not to say that I haven't been guilty of it myself, hence the we in my previous comment. However, I do feel that if we can't be bothered to choose/write the right reason, we probably shouldn't be voting to close at that point. It is important to educate new users and teach them the rules. In other words, we should use the custom field when none of the other reasons fit. – terdon Feb 16 '16 at 17:29
  • @terdon agree that we should use the custom field (I do sometimes), the reason I mentioned stats is because my sense is that in practice, few do--relatively speaking. I regret using the footnote now, as the final phrase is buried, but the post was already long enough... – jasonwryan Feb 16 '16 at 17:34

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