How to use Twitter as a personal learning tool

I never understood Twitter. I thought it was a place for teenagers to follow celebrities and tweet about their latest crushes. I couldn’t understand why you would want to limit yourself to 140 character updates or who you would want to follow. I also didn’t want to create another social networking site presence, as I had profiles on Facebook (see Facebook V Twitter info graphic), LinkedIn and Yammer (at work). How many social networks can one have after all? Finally I think curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to see what it had to offer and ever since I have been constantly amazed by what a great learning tool Twitter is.

You most probably have a Facebook account and think ‘I don’t know anyone on Twitter, why would I bother?’.  There in lies the beauty of Twitter. You don’t have to know the people you follow, but you may indeed learn something of value from other people. Since joining Twitter less than a year ago, I’ve been more engaged in my personal learning than I have for a long time, as I have a constant stream of useful tips and information at my fingertips. The information is easily accessible, byte sized and provides links to more information if I want it. I became so in awe of the information I found on Twitter, that I started to look for *everything* on there. Ant problem at home – searched for ‘ants’ on Twitter. Wanted to know more about ‘social learning’ for work, search and found some great information and people to follow as well. Ok, so I didn’t get great ant tips, but there were a lot of things I did get. Enough to sing Twitter’s praises here.

So if you aren’t a Twitter convert, try out the following steps to explore the power of Twitter and join the conversation.

1. Write a list of what you are interested in.

To learn, you first need to think about what your want to learn more about. Starting with a quick list, helps you target what sort of information you want to get out of your Twitter network. Make a mix of work, fun and social. My list included: Social media, learning and development, elearning, football (AFL and NFL), poker, dance music, politics, environment, consulting organisations and corporates I was interested in.

2. Against each of the topics write some names of people who interest you in that topic.

If you know a few people in your field of expertise or interest, start by looking for them. Once you start finding some people you want to follow, see who they are following, check out their tweets, then choose to follow some more people that way. Remember, you aren’t in a committed relationship with these people. You can follow and unfollow people pretty easily. It isn’t like ‘de-friending’ someone on Facebook. Chances are you didn’t know them in the first place!  Look at people’s recent tweets, if it interests you follow them and see how it works out for you.

3. Search on some key words associated with your topics

Twitter has a powerful search engine and it is likely at any time that you will find someone tweeting about the terms or content you are interested in. If you follow the Twitter ‘trail’, from tweets, to people, to people that tweet the content that you are interested in – you will soon have a list of interesting Twitter accounts to follow.

4. ‘Retweet’ and share tweets you like

Twitter is about colloboration and sharing. Sharing things you find valuable will build your own following on Twitter as people start to see what you like and want to follow you as well.

5. Create and or follow some lists

Lists on Twitter allow you to group like users together, so you can have a more targetted stream of information.  Lists can be private or public, so you can follow other peoples lists, which is a quick way to tap into a group of users you may also be interested in.

6. Try some ‘live tweeting’ events, by following hashtags (#)

Hashtags (#) designate topics that are going on in Twitter at anyone time. Anyone can create a new topic, the power becomes when others join the conversation and the topic. Live events are great for trending topics. Common ones are sporting events, television / social events (#logies in Australia is a good example) and professional conferences. Twitter also has regular Twitter chat events, which are special virtual colloboration events that anyone can join by following the hashtag on Twitter.


Like any social learning, learning from Twitter involves starting with an idea, then looking for a trail of information ‘crumbs’ to follow. When starting out, think as broadly as possible and don’t be afraid to try out a wide variety of tweeters to follow. Most importantly, don’t think you have to read *every* single tweet. Through scanning and reading various sources, you will soon find the information you want faster as you become accustomed to the constant flow of tweets. Don’t forget to share, pass on and reply to the people whose tweets you enjoy!

Some good Twitter resources:

Kicking the training habit

If you work in the learning and development space, you would probably be aware of the buzz about informal learning. There has been a real awakening to the fact that informal learning can provide some of the greatest learning opportunities. Commonly thought to provide more than 80% of what we learn and the source of some of the most powerful lessons we will learn in life (& indeed in our organisations). But for many organisations, we are a product of our history. Locked into a paradigm of training our people to do a good job and rewarding learning and development professionals for putting more people through even more training programs.

But the current reality is not working. Business needs are changing rapidly resulting in a mounting list of unfullfilled training needs. We are struggling to sustain behaviour change at a rate that keeps up with the changes required by our environment and we find it hard to quantify the benefits associated with our training programs.

We are running the gambit of being high on the training drug, then suffering the hangover of reality where nothing much has changed. Yet we are addicted. It is in our nature. It is what we grew up on. It is hard to resist when people are prepared to pay us to give people ‘everything they need to know’ and entertain them at the same time.

‘Just tell them everything they need to know to do the job right’ – frustrated executive.

We have come to a cross roads, we are struggling harness the power of informal learning as it is a path that we feel we have little control over. Informal learning is a method that can easily go ‘under the radar’ or even ‘missing in action’. Yet the informal learning path is ever present. We just don’t know how to embrace it, leverage it and effectively measure it to prove to our stakeholders that there is a better way.

Let us pause and reflect on some key differences between our desired destination and our current state. Some of the key characteristics of informal learning include that it is self directed in nature, learnt largely through our experience and discussing our insights or questions with others. Informal learning is not new, we learnt how to do many things, from learning to walk, making friends, to solving our home storage crisis – largely through our own trial and error. In life we have typically also learnt a lot through formal learning. We have been through an education system, where we we have relied on others to set a path for us to follow and spoon feed us insights.

Typically informal learning is less visible, it happens in the moment and there are less signposts indicating ‘learning has occurred here today’. In contrast with training, it is very structured, it requires an organised meeting time, often with associated artifacts to take from that learning and hence it is very visible.

Informal learning, by it’s nature starts from a place of desire from the learner. ‘I wonder how to do this..’, ‘what’s is this all about?’, ‘could you show me how to do that?’. A sense of wonderment is a powerful learning tool.

Where as training represents the status quo. It comes with expectations, ‘prove it’, ‘show me’, ‘tell me’, ‘entertain me’. It is easily tracked and can keep law makers happy because we can prove we have checked the right boxes, all the relevant knowledge has been consumed – ‘we are safe to proceed sir!’.

Informal learning has exponential impact when it is transformed into ‘social learning’ through the use of colloboration technologies. Instead of accepting the nearest persons’ answer, we can tap into a digital social network for a better answer – although we must have the confidence and trust to do it.

How do we chart a course to leverage informal learning, whilst at the same time sensibly utilize our training addiction for what what it is best designed for? Like any good learning, the answer rely’s on us experimenting. Experiments I’m currently trying, include being much more deliberate about mashing up the learning experience. Using the best parts of each of the learning modes, to get a better result, with a clear aim of building a path that leads learners to cross the threshold from their addiction to training, to something that requires more pro-active engagement.

Follow me on twitter or my blog to read more about some of my efforts to leverage the power of informal and social learning.

Check out also the following resources on informal and social learning.

Please respond with your thoughts and favorite links on the topic:

Image: zmkstudio /