Entrepreneurs are natural wayfinders. They puzzle through mazes to emerge with new answers to old problems and pursue their dreams of achieving impact wherever they are. They might be in a job, self-employed, working in their own or someone else’s business, or volunteering to expertly serve their communities.
We like to believe that entrepreneurs possess Superman-like speed, vision, strength, and ability to keep getting back up when knocked down by forces (or fears?) that keep many of us doing the same-old thing far too long.
Entrepreneurial super-powers might be debatable, but one thing isn’t. In this digitally networked era, the most successful wayfinders will connect to ideas and people on the internet to learn; find their way; apply learning; and draw maps for others to follow. Net-savvy entrepreneurs recognize that working must involve learning in order to improve performance and succeed in the long-term. And they realize that most learning opportunities online are free.
Everyone knows about blogs but how many see blogs as a learning opportunity available to anyone anytime? Well, they are!
Blogs cost nothing to read or comment on or talk to other readers about in online forums. One can find interesting blogs through submitting key terms to search engines, Twitter, and LinkedIn where other learners share relevant blog links, key terms, and hashtags. And one can use RSS feeds and email subscriptions to keep learning from expert practitioners who are fascinated with the same issues that intrigue you.
As your expertise grows, writing your own blog posts will force you to clarify your thinking and serve to record your growth as a writer, thinker, and doer. Learning out loud as Harold Jarche terms it is a big step forward for most people in learning networks to get comfortable with. Your blog will also become your first go-to archive that everyone, including you, can refer back to years later.
What are MOOCs? Massive Open Online Courses are offered by prestigious universities and cover almost any topic. It is not unusual for thousands of people to enroll in a MOOC. Many of them will be from faraway countries, leading to a mind-blowing diversity of views.
MOOC success happens when you get some exposure to the convener, curriculum, and featured experts; reach out to other learners; and plumb the syllabus for resources relevant to your learning goals. MOOCs may be overwhelming at first, but relax and follow the success strategies. Completing a MOOC or participating in all the activities is not a requirement, you can learn what you want and move on. And unless you wish to earn college credit for a MOOC, most are still free. Peruse the Learning Directory on this site to read more about MOOC providers.
Want to learn something relevant in real-time? A collaborative project might be your learning on-ramp.
First, identify a challenge that matters to you. It should approach “wicked problem” status for which there are no easy or complete answers.
Do initial research to see what has been done and to clarify the challenge. Curate your research in Diigo or Evernote for sharing with collaborators. Seek up to 8 people who share your concern and who may be experimenting or testing ideas related to yours. You might find some of them via Twitter links to their blog posts or in MOOCs. You will ideally seek some diversity of experience and expertise.
With your project peers, reframe goals to focus and make them even more relevant. Use a timeline, target milestones, regular sharing rituals—same-time and asynchronous, individual and group reflection time, and iterative write-ups to organize and do your work. Participants can test-drive the draft recommendations in their home communities of practice. Gather the resulting feedback, rewrite, and publish the conclusions with a Creative Commons license. Celebrate! Implement the recommendations. Assess to understand impact. Review and begin again.
You might realize by now that networks for learning can come out of blog interactions, MOOC participation, and projects. A network of weak ties is a perpetual, potential source of stronger ties that grow around shared interests. These might become projects or learning communities of shared practice and domains and last weeks, months, or years. The three principles for effective networks –narration, transparency, and shared power—may upset hierarchical organizations but can allow hard working entrepreneurs to achieve far more than they could as independent, solo practitioners or small businesses.
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Which of the learning opportunities—blogs, MOOCs, projects, and networks—have you experienced? What did the experience(s) yield for you in terms of new relationships, benefits, and results? What was difficult? What would you do again or avoid?
Abstract photo by DuBois on MorgueFile