In the process of looking up a word or topic on the web, I often find myself following links to related information. This is a recursive process, and can result in several hours of browsing through a seemingly random set of topics. I've taken similar random walks while reading a paper encyclopedia or even a dictionary.

As an example, I recently followed Isis (goddess) -> Aphrodite -> Venus -> Venus (planet) -> Mars -> terraforming Mars -> lunar colony -> space elevator -> etc.

Does anyone know of a word or phrase for this type of activity / learning process?

Edit: M. Bowles calls this learning process "serendipitous learning" in "Relearning to E-learn: Strategies for Electronic Learning and Knowledge".

Jim Gritton calls this "serendipity browsing" in Of serendipity, free association and aimless browsing: do they lead to serendipitous learning?

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    I don't think there is a well used term for this, but you could coin a phrase. There is the idea of word association, so some riff on that could get the point across.
    – Patrick M
    Sep 17, 2015 at 18:00
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    Yes, and there is an aspect of learning by accident or serendipity.
    – Yojimbo
    Sep 17, 2015 at 18:06
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    There was a newspaper columnist named Sydney J. Harris who wrote a column called "Things I learned on the way to looking up other things". That phrase has always stuck with me and is my go-to expression for that activity. Sep 17, 2015 at 18:10
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    @KristinaLopez Good one. It puts me in mind of the phrase drive-by learning or drive-by teaching.
    – Patrick M
    Sep 17, 2015 at 18:14
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    Information Foraging could also be relevant. Sep 17, 2015 at 18:23

2 Answers 2


What about

thrash learning

(along the lines of "thrashing" on a UX -- so, you don't know how the hell to "change to italics" or "add gaussian filter" so you just thrash, randomly bash on different menu options and keystrokes.)

"free association browsing" (building on the reference in the answer) is also not bad.

One could also use "go with the hyperlink flow" learning.

A critical point is that extremely old people, over 20, used to explicitly append "google" or "the internet" or similar modifiers, to the relevant phrases.

So, "Look it up on the net" "you can easily get the phone number on google" "check online for the story about the pink tiger" "there's a 500 dollar flight on the online flight sites today"

These have become "Look it up" "you can easily get the phone number" "check the story about the pink tiger" "there's a 500 dollar flight today" ... in all cases "what else could it mean?"

Given that, it possible you should simply refer to it as

Serendipitous reading

what else could it mean other than wikipedia and the web generally?

Indeed consider the following sentence:

"I did some serendipitous reading - actually in a library!"

Even if you've never heard the phrase serendipitous reading before, it can only mean one thing: that you wandered the library, reading things here and there, going from topic to topic, with one thing leading to another - just as everyone does on wikipedia.

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    I like the generalization to "serendipitous reading".
    – Yojimbo
    Jan 26, 2016 at 20:24
  • good one, Yojimbo. as I mention I have long-searched for exactly the SWR you describe! for example, just now for one hour after lunch, I was doing precisely what you so elegantly describe in the first paragraph of your OP. in the field "cosmology" I was thrash-learning (or - whatever) by clicking around in wikipedia on my ipad. it all started with a definition of "planet" and went from there, you know... exactly as you describe
    – Fattie
    Jan 26, 2016 at 20:27

I'd call it "linked learning." You are learning (systematically) about a bunch of topics that are linked together.

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