I remember how amazed I was as a kid by the size of the Indianapolis Central Public Library. Thousands of books lined every wall from the massive light-filled atrium to the wood-lined reading rooms and dark basement corridors. It was empowering to know I could find my way thru that maze of information. Thanks to the librarians, every one of those books was annotated onto tiny index cards and filed away in long, heavy wooden card catalog drawers. Back then, “information overload” was not such a concern. We all understood that finding good information required some critical thinking, knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System, patient digging, and a little luck that the sources we needed were not checked-out.
Today’s information landscape requires slightly more complicated tools and methods to navigate it. Staying current can seem like panning for gold in a flash flood. When information is pushed to us from all directions, rather than buckets, we need personalized patchworks of filters that work for us 24/7. We need to be able to extract value and contribute to these flows of information. And we still need those librarians and other curators to guide us along the way.
Despite Wall Street’s concerns about profitability, social media platforms continue to be powerful tools for self-directed learning. Social learning expert Jane Hart (@c4lpt) created this diagram of PKM tools that she uses in her daily routine:
Each of these tools has a variety of features and learning curves. But mastering just a few of these can save you a lot of time and frustration. Many tools now interact with each other and across all home, work, and personal devices. The right combination of them can reduce your email inbox clutter and make online reading more manageable and enjoyable. Whether these tools can improve your routine will depend on your personal preferences and amount of practice. So start small, experiment, seek advice, and add-on as needed.
Finding Flows: Setup accounts in Twitter and Linked-In according to your organization’s social media policy. Enhance your personal profiles with information about your perspective and personal learning goals.Evaluate what your peers are interested in by browsing their tweets, retweets, favorites, and who they follow. Search Twitter for keywords or hashtags that reveal resources and interesting people to follow.
Diversifying Flows: A good personal learning network should include some diverse perspectives. Use LearnPhilanthropy’s directory of networks and resources to find new sources of information, mentors, and co-learners. Mentionmapp.com provides a fun way to discover new people thru its visualizations of recent Twitter interactions. Twiangulate.com compares two Twitter accounts to evaluate shared followers and audience reach. Social networks are fluid, so regular pruning will keep your network healthy and manageable.
Filtering Flows: If Twitter feeds can sometimes feel like a relentless stream of irrelevance, the mechanical filters below can help you sift thru the celebs, politicos, and marketers begging for attention.
Twitter “lists” organize your Twitter feed by social group or topic such as Peers, Friends, and Philanthropy News. Now you can quickly filter out your friends’ tweets about last night’s Emmy winners when you would rather focus on the latest news in grantmaking. For example, here’s a list maintained by @GrantCraft of philanthropy gurus that you can subscribe to. You can create your own lists of users with similar interests or organize group chats around a specific conference or learning event.
Feed readers, such as Feedly or Flipboard, bring updates (RSS feeds) from your favorite blogs, news sources, and social media streams together for quick and easy viewing. Rather than flooding your inbox, these updates can be neatly stored for a time when you are ready to read them.
Social Media Dashboards like Hootsuite or Netvibes can display multiple social media streams organized by source, hashtag, group list, or search term. They can aggregate feeds from many sources such as blogs, Linked-In, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Evernote, or even email accounts. This saves the time of repeating the login & search process and makes browsing more efficient. Below, I have setup a single Hootsuite screen that displays RSS feeds from the GMN discussion board, GMN blog, GMNSight journal, GMN Linked-In group, and any recent mentions of @grantsmanagers that have appeared in my Twitter feed.
From this screen, I am just a click or two away from accessing the actual content. Searching for these updates separately would require three unique logins and several dozen clicks. The power of these tools is amplified when used in combination. Similar dashboards can be set up to scan flows from other membership orgs, grantees, peers, or partner organizations. If you have used any of these tools for tracking issues in the field, please share your experience in the comments section below.
Building habits: New habits stick better with short and regular practice rather than sessions that are too lengthy or sporadic. So try browsing your social media tools in one or two 15-20 minute sessions each day. Retweet, favorite, or bookmark posts that seem useful to your original learning goals or to someone else in your network. If you have a comment or resource relevant to PKM, include #GMNPKM in your post so we can view them all in one hashtag search.
It is not necessary to read or capture everything. Simply scan and immerse yourself in the flow for a while. Keep a notebook nearby to jot down thoughts or questions that come to you as you browse. Writing helps your brain learn in ways that reading alone cannot. You may someday be amazed at the glimmers of insight that you would have otherwise forgotten. Use this notebook-hack as a nifty way to index your scribbled thoughts over time. The next post in this series will cover more tools and techniques to organize and curate the knowledge nuggets you find.
Twitter has exposed me to diverse perspectives in social learning, network theory, and knowledge management. This led me to participate in online workshops and discussions which got me thinking about my work in grants and financial management in new ways. I began to wonder how we can enhance our technology skills not just for the sake of doing more of the same faster, but for improving self-directed learning and collective sense-making. How can we automate routine or low value tasks so more energy can be directed at creative problem solving? How can we convey the value of our work beyond dollars and program outputs? This renewed passion, and a nudge from Nikki, motivated me to practice more tweeting and writing of blog posts like this. And thru the process of planning and writing about it, I have learned even more about PKM.
Cover photo: Simon Reading Room, Indianapolis Central Public Library, photo courtesy of the Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award