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A Beginner’s Guide: Using Twitter for Learning

By Jean Fan

For a long time, I didn’t see the value in using Twitter — at least, not as an individual (as opposed to an organization). It seemed to be filled with people whining about their day, and generally sharing details of their life that I just didn’t care about. Why did people like about Twitter, anyways?

A recent conversation with a friend changed my mind. He reminded me that there are two ways to use social networking platforms: actively and passively. I realized that I would get nothing out of Twitter if I kept using it passively (e.g. merely scanning my already-existing feed and responding to mentions). Used actively, on the other hand, Twitter could be a fantastic resource for hackademics like me.

Specifically, Twitter can be a great resource to find and access other resources. Here are a few very basic steps to using this social networking platform to hack your education (and not just to waste time):

1. Follow individuals and organizations that are doing work you admire.

Aspiring journalist? Follow some names from major publications. Interested in science? Follow publications that report on recent innovations. To further expand your network, check out who they’re following and see if anyone catches your eye.

Finding major players in your fields of interest who Tweet, however, is just the first step. You should also vet for their usage of Twitter. Do they post meaningful content or just share insignificant details of their day?

Organizations generally aim to post valuable and relevant content because they are trying to curate a following. Individuals, on the other hand, often post whatever comes to mind. Remember: you are using Twitter as a learning resource. Be very selective about who you follow, and who you don’t.

2. Create a list of hashtags of interest to discover shared resources and key insights.

Hashtags are just words that people put a # sign in front of to make their Tweets searchable. It can be a great way for you to expand your understanding of what’s out there, and see what’s going on in real time.

First you need to brainstorm a list of keywords that exist in the field that you’re studying. If you want to learn about economics, for example, you might be interested in things like: #economics, #finance, #wallstreet, #investing, and so forth. Refer back to this list of hashtags when you’re looking to curate your own list of news, or if the people in your existing network are not sharing useful resources.

3. Engage with your newly-curated community. Ask questions.

After you’ve taken the time to curate an intentional community, then you can really start using Twitter as a learning resource. Read articles that people in your community have shared. Retweet insights that resonate with you. Ask questions of ideas or resources that you don’t fully understand.

Because of how short Tweets are, Twitter is great for accessing busy people who might not respond if you reached out to them by email. Ask people you admire specific questions about a single piece of their work. Read the information that your peers are sharing and make comments. Start a concise conversation about what you’re learning, and see where it takes you.

4. Put ideas into your own words, establishing yourself as an expert.

Use Twitter as a micro-learning log. Share insights that you have in your daily life, as you’re attending a lecture, or as you’re reading a book. Retweet ideas that your community has shared, or put them into your own words (giving credit where it’s due, of course).

Tweet meaningful thoughts, and establish yourself as a resource for other people. Look back on it in the future, and see how much you’ve grown.

What are other ways you use Twitter (or other social networking platforms) to learn? I want to know! Email me at jean@uncollege.org.

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