Twitter As a Learning Tool. Really

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					TRENdS //

           Twitter As a Learning Tool.
                          Savvy trainers are using micro-
                        blogging to foster informal learning
                           and meet like-minded peers.
                                          By Pat Galagan

 Here’s a scenario to            Though it may not be apparent               followed President Barack Obama on
 give trainers pause.        to someone unfamiliar with Web 2.0              Twitter throughout his campaign.
                             behavior, these people aren’t simply                As a user, you can send and receive
 You’re presenting at a      multitasking while you teach. They’re           updates through the Twitter website, or
 conference. Minutes into    twittering—or as they would put it,             by SMS, RSS, email, and a host of other
 your session, a number      “twitting out” information about you,           applications with too-cute names such as
 of people are tapping       your session, and what they are thinking        Tweetie and Twinkle. By some estimates,
                             and doing in real time. It’s like getting the   Twitter receives more than 5 million visi-
 furiously on their phones   scoop on sessions that might be better          tors every month. More than 700 learning
 or reading incoming         than yours. And their fellow Twitterers         professionals have Twitter accounts.
 messages. Most of           are talking back in the staccato bursts
 these people get up and     of the 140 characters or fewer that             Working the back channel
                             Twitter requires.                               While some instructors may not relish
 leave the room, while           Twitter is a free micro-blogging ser-       real-time reviews of their classes that
 another bunch trickles      vice. Users sign up, create a profile, and      cause people to leave, others know how
 in. At least a third of     begin sending short messages, known             to benefit from a roomful of people
 the audience continues      as tweets, about what they are doing            on Twitter. Whether at conferences or
                             and thinking. All other users may read          in companies where micro-blogging
 tapping out short bursts    their updates unless the sender gives           while learning is encouraged, informal
 of text throughout your     access only to specific people.                 information exchange is an adjunct to
 presentation. It’s as if        You may ask other users for                 structured learning events.
 you aren’t there.           permission to “follow” them (meaning               Jane Hart, a social media and learning
                             that you will receive all of their              consultant, classifies Twitter and other
                             updates), and other people may ask to           micro-blogs as tools for personal and
                             follow you. More than 100,000 people            informal learning. “The point of social

28 | T+D | March 2009                                                                               Photo by
media is to turn learning into a more
participatory activity,” she says. Learners      Social Networking
use social media tools to ask and answer
each other’s questions, and as Hart
maintains, “Micro-blogs can support
collaboration and understanding.”
   Many educators already use micro-    - Twitter’s home page.
blogs to create community around a class
or an activity. Instructors who’ve used - A comparison of enterprise
Twitter say it is a useful back channel          micro-sharing tools.
during and after class. “As an instructor,
you can have immediate feedback on the  - Jane Hart’s website, which includes a directory of learning profes-
relevance of your class,“ Hart says.             sionals registered on Twitter.
   After class, instructors can encour-
age micro-blogging to support relation- - Search engine that shows who is tweeting about what.
ships among the people from the class
and to further their learning. Teachers - A private micro-blogging platform for teachers and students.
post tips of the day, questions, writ-
ing assignments, and other prompts to   - The airline’s Twitter posts.
keep learning going.
   Some believe that Twitter is even    - Whole Foods micro-blog for customers.
more powerful as a social learning tool
                                        - One of many third party applications for Twitter. This one is
                                                 an Adobe AIR desktop application that increases the functionality of Twitter.

                                        - A private information-sharing network service for

                                                 @WriteTechnology - Michelle Lentz’s Twitter address.

                                                 @TweetReport - A list of Twitter resources compiled and maintained by Sarah

outside the context of the classroom.         posts. “This is an easy way to prompt
“In a corporation, micro-blogging             conversation and questions with role
can be a way to augment behavior              models,” says Milstein.
modeling,” says Sarah Millstein, author          Another popular use of Twitter and
of the O’Reilly Radar Report, "Twitter        other micro-blogging sites is the build-
and the Micro-Messaging Revolution:           ing of professional networks. Michele
Communication, Connection, and                Lentz, a technical writer and profes-
Immediacy—140 Characters at a Time."          sional blogger, began using Twitter to
    To model good workflow, for               get to know other learning profession-
example, a person who excels at it            als. Within months, she was posting
would send out frequent updates about         regular updates about her work, getting
what they are doing. The company              help from experts, and attracting fol-
might formalize the process to the            lowers of her own.
extent that it would select exemplary            Currently, Lentz has 1,000 followers
performers to post regularly, and             on Twitter and teaches courses on how
pick those who should follow their            to use micro-blogging as a learning tool.

                                                                                                                March 2009 | T+D | 29
                                                     A first visit to Twitter may not convince
                                                 you of its potential as a professional net-
                                                 working and learning tool. Many of the
                                                 tweets are not only personal but trivial—
                                                 what someone is having for breakfast, or
                                                 where they’re headed next. It’s not unusu-
                                                 al for a new user to post an update and be
                                                 completely ignored. Michelle Lentz likens
                                                 Twitter to a large party.
                                                     “At first, you’ll be talking to yourself
                                                 until you get involved,” she says. She
                                                 advises following as many people as
                                                 possible. For example, a search on e-
                                                 learning will show who’s talking about
She recently polled her followers via a          it. Or use Jane Hart’s list of learning pro-
Twitter polling application, about why           fessionals on Twitter.
they like Twitter. The top reasons were              Lentz recommends that you follow
  • It accelerated my learning curve.            your choice of interesting people for a
  • It helped me with personal learning.         while, and then send a direct message
  • It expanded my circle.                       to a few of them, using the @username
                                                 format, to introduce yourself and join
The corporate tweet                              a conversation. Before long, you can
A growing number of companies use                begin building a support group.
Twitter to foster communication among                Twitter is not for everyone, says Lentz.
employees and customers. Southwest               “It’s good for mobile, on-the-go people
Airlines tweets first-time customers             who can learn anywhere,” she says.
with the message, “Hope you enjoyed
your first-ever Southwest flight! Can’t          The future
wait to see you onboard again.”                  Micro-blogging is only one kind of
    Employees and customers of                   social media tool with the potential to
Zappos, the online shoe seller with              support learning. Those that offer col-
an intentionally unstuffy culture, use           laborative file sharing, mindmapping,
Twitter extensively at the urging of the         writing, and editing capabilities can
CEO, Tony Hsieh. In a public directory           support more complex collaborative
of Zappos employees using Twitter,               learning than Twitter. But for the mo-
ranked by numbers of followers, Hsieh            ment, nothing else is as immediate or
is first.                                        growing as fast.
    As a public site, Twitter is not for every       As Milstein points out, micro-blogging
company, but there are micro-blogging            is taking off because it fits how people
services that will set up internal corporate     work and think. But, cautions Lentz,
sites. Laura Fitton of Pistachio Consulting      “Think before you tweet. Each tweet is a
has created a list of internal micro-blog-       webpage. It can be Googled. It’s forever.”
ging services (
    Compared to instant messaging,               Pat Galagan is editor-at-large for ASTD;
which requires you to address people in-
dividually, Twitter broadcasts to a person’s
entire group of followers. People who use
it to get expert advice on the fly say it usu-
ally returns results immediately.
    Sarah Milstein predicts that micro-           WhAT do You ThiNk?
messaging will be as common as email              T+D welcomes your comments. If you would
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Photo by                                                                             March 2009 | T+D | 31

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