10 Steps to Turn Social Media into a Self-Directed Center of Learning

Published by Chris Oestereich on

I just read the latest post from Andrea Learned.  It got me to thinking about a post I have been meaning to write on how I believe that I’ve accelerated my learning via social media…

Social media is an openended, polyphonic stream of consciousness.  That stream can lead to an endless procession of cat pics, fiery discussions over a host of controversial topics, or just about anything in between.  The great thing about it is that the experience is largely dependent on you.  If you like, it can be a great echo chamber in which multitudes will line up to agree with your positions, , or it can be a home for great debate in which arguments can be honed, but we may learn that long held positions are unfounded.  (Caveat lector!)  It can also be an immense waste of time.

But sometimes, an immense waste of time can be highly productive…

 It is an ocean of experts, floating ideas out for all to sample.

And, I think it is probably the best thing going for fostering learning.

Even so, It can be an immense waste of time.

In short, it can be pretty much whatever you want it to be.

 So, how do I use social media? (Get to the point, Chris!)

I’m a bit of an interdisciplinarian when it comes to ideas.  A jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none as it’s said.  As such, I’m constantly making forays into new areas where, by background, I’ve no business poking my nose.  Fortunately, social media makes it much easier for me to do so, without being too much of a bother. (That perception may be relative depending whether you’re the botherer or the botheree…)

n.b. Most of what I’ll discuss below refers directly to Twitter, but I think similar strategies could be used fairly universally.

As I was saying, social media allows me to dip my toe in to see if the water’s fine.  I typically start out by taking a stroll through whatever sites look interesting from a Google search of of the topic, and Wikipedia is usually a great spot for a broad overview (Bonus points for checking out related entries!) I’ll also try keyword searches on twitter to see if I can find any hashtags or interesting people which are sharing relevant content.  If those efforts prove fruitful I’ll soon know whether the topic is one I want to dive in on (or whether it’s one that sails well over my head.).  If I find a match, I’ll dive in with the steps below.

    1. Listen first – It helps to get the lay of the land before you jump in.  You’ll learn about the topics that are currently being discussed, who the respected voices are, and how that community engages.

    2. Be earnest – Self-interested fakers will out themselves in due time.  Help where you can and when in doubt, presume your own ignorance.

    3. Share the good stuff – Help others who are creating good content build their platform without any expectations. Do it because it’s the right thing to do.

    4. Do your homework, before you jump in – Even the most polite expert should not be expected to help you get off the starting blocks. They’re time is as precious as anyone’s, so it’s unfair to expect them to hold your hand while you get up to speed.

    5. Play nice – If you disagree with something, be clear that you’re disagreeing with the idea. Dust ups over perceived slights are all to common on Twitter.

    6. Careful with the jokes – As hilarious as I may be, I’ve rankled more than a few folks with a quip that misfired. When in doubt it’s probably better to hold back on the yucks as ten good laughs are likely not worth a single gaffe when the cost is a burnt bridge.

    7. Go slowly – When you do decide to begin engaging, don’t run roughshod on people’s timelines, or a group’s hashtag. Play nice and your engagements will likely be far better.

      "Play Nice Boys" Flickr/Jason Ternus

      “Play Nice Boys” Flickr/Jason Ternus

    8. Be patient – Don’t expect that your questions will get answered by the person who’s in the middle of an eight day, twelve city speaking trip.

    9. Offer loads/Expect little – Share what you know. Share your passion. Lift people up. — But, don’t expect the internet to carry you off on its shoulders.

    10. Be grateful – Setting aside the possibility of connecting with folds, this an amazing opportunity to foster learning.  Constantly remind yourself to see it as such and try to make the most of it!

As for what to pursue, that’s entirely up to you.  I recommend going down whatever rabbit holes look interesting as it’s much easier to stick with topics that pull you in.  Dig in until it stops being fun and then move on to the next interesting topic.  That works well for me.

Learn thee well, but remember, it can be an immense waste of time!