8 key steps to building a personal learning network inspired by @hrheingold

Howard Rheingold

Howard Rheingold @hrheingold

Whilst doing research in preparation for a keynote presentation at the University of Cambridge on the theme of ‘making connections’ I happened upon a series of tweets from Howard Rheingold. Howard has played a significant part in my digital learning journey. I have had the privilege of taking part in online courses he has facilitated, read his books and articles, as well as enjoyed many opportunities to listen in to live and recorded webinars and presentations. These experiences have lighted the curious within me and given me the confidence to explore, experiment, play, reflect and share what I have learned and encourage others to do so too.

Over the last seven years or so I have discovered how to use social media to connect with other educators and over time developed networks that have enabled and empowered my own approach to engaging with informal learning. These networks often lead on to new learning communities and collaborative projects. Some are time limited and others continue. Geographical boundaries cease to exist as we can make connections online across the world. Communication may be in real time or as and when we can pick up the messages and respond.

Learning how to use social media effectively as an educator is one of those light bulb moments. You realise the potential but then discover there is a whole load of stuff you have yet to learn to catch up with those who have already been doing it for some time. Building a personal learning network is the most important thing you can do to help you on this journey. Yes it is a journey and it does take time, but you will gain so much from this investment. The network you build will provide you with the signposts to valuable information; a pool of educators you can communicate with and ask questions of; and a rich collection of spaces you can explore to take the conversations you are interested in to new levels.

I’d like to share Howard’s eight recommendations for developing a personal learning network. Each one resonates with me and whilst the tools may change the concepts hold strong.

  1. Explore
  2. Search
  3. Follow
  4. Tune
  5. Feed
  6. Engage
  7. Inquire
  8. Respond

Here are my thoughts on each which focus on the use of Twitter as a space for developing a personal learning network (PLN).  That’s not to say this is the only space to do this as there are other online social network spaces and any of these have the potential to add to the networks we build face to face.

  • Explore – as you begin to follow like-minded educators, take a look at who they are following. Check out the individual’s bio – what does it tell you? What are they tweeting about.
  • Search  take note of shared hashtags and put this in the search bar. These could indicate tweets shared at a conference e.g. #HEASTEM16, or a weekly tweetchat e.g. #LTHEchat, #HEAchat, EDENchat.
  • Follow – as you increase the number of people you follow, organise them into lists. This can help you to zoom into conversations from specific groups of people.
  • Tune – it is ok to unfollow people who don’t bring value to your feed. People use Twitter in different ways. If these conversations are not interesting or useful, then simply stop listening to them.
  • Feed – share information that you happen upon that you feel will resonate with those that follow you. It is quick and easy to click the share button when reading or listening to something interesting.
  • Engage – interact with others by responding to their tweets. Whilst brevity is key, many a useful conversation can take place.
  • Inquire – reach out to others and ask questions. Know when it is good to take exchanges to direct message and perhaps on to an email or phone call.
  • Respond – don’t simply broadcast. Listen for responses and in turn respond to these. The conversation is richer if it is two-way and we listen and answer questions raised.

Below are the tweets Howard shared in 2011. I hope you find them as useful as I do.











Further resources

If you have not had the opportunity or want to re-look at Howard’s work, I highly recommend the following as starting points. Howard is a very generous open practitioner and someone we can all learn from as lifelong and lifewide learners.





About Sue Beckingham

A National Teaching Fellow, Educational Developer and Principal Lecturer in Computing with a research interest in the use of social media in higher education.
This entry was posted in Personal Learning Network. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s