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: