Wyatt Earp’s Networked Learning

“You tell ’em I’m coming… and hell’s coming with me!”  – Wyatt Earp, Tombstone

I have a pretty sweet gig for a day job.  My work has me learning arguably more than I’m crafting how others learn.  When I think of who helps me develop as a learner (let alone an employee), who would really want the unenviable task of developing me? Sure, there’s any number of soft skills one could mentor or coach me on; when it comes to growing me as a person, the ability to navigate within a corporate environment is not to be overlooked.  I’d posit that learning only how to navigate is about on par with learning how to swim.  Eventually, you’re going to want to walk around or even fly.  Swimming will only get you so far on that journey.  Who in my organization can really develop me? Only I can.

And me, learning in a vacuum? That wouldn’t work.  The key to my professional development over the last two years is my network.  It was probably always like this, but it’s clearly how I learn, now.  Three years ago, I was leveraging my network to perform my job at a higher level — the ability to pull in answers at the moment of need.  GoogleTalk? Excellent transmission vehicle because of its browser-based chat client going over port 80 — almost nobody blocked it, so I could have line-of-sight access to information sources.  That instant access to answers allowed me to perform at a higher level, because I could learn “at the time of need.”

There came a time, though, where learning at the time of need wasn’t enough. Operating at a performance level, even a high one, is treading water as opposed to swimming.  You need to tread water in order to stay afloat.  You need to consistently perform well to stay employed — but that doesn’t necessarily get you anywhere as an employee.  If you ever want to walk on land or fly, once you figure out how to swim to dry land, you need to learn something new.

When my colleagues at work re-talked me into using Twitter in 2007, I did not know the cabal I associate with online today (everyday).  I knew some names (mostly from their books) but I really never expected that these thought leaders would be the people who have such profound impact on my development.  I considered myself very lucky, two years ago, to have such a wide personal network that I could perform at levels that others simply couldn’t because they didn’t know how to stay connected.

Now I consider myself lucky because I can connect at levels others find difficult because they can’t handle the cognitive leap needed to use a tool like Twitter (or LinkedIn or Facebook) to connect, inquire, share and grow [this is fodder for a whole separate post]. I think there’s something to using social networking for learning in this way, because even a learner’s questions force knowledge sharers to bridge newly discovered gaps in their understanding, so learning in a networked sense isn’t that we’re all learning the same things at the same time.  Rather, we’re all learning at different levels as we engage each other and bridge our cognitive gaps.

My point being that when I’m learning, my network is learning with me.

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