I am a serendipitous learner, one who often rejects questions at the start of events that ask me to identify my learning goals. I prefer the Open Space Law of Two Feet to open myself to possibilities. I like being surprised by what I learn and when I learn and with whom. This outlook has led to magical interactions and new knowledge for me. On the other hand, following any current of curiosity could mean no self-accountability. I could miss deeper learning because I waited too long to commit to a learning focus. All of the above has happened to me.
A learning event is one thing to negotiate without a personal plan but learning online is 20 times more demanding and slippery. My aerie-faerie-reverie approach to learning became counter-productive and even destructive online. Why? Because there was always something new to distract me, I could seldom finish anything.
I needed a way to focus my attentional priorities to find, direct, and manage information. My out-of-control-info-intake rescuer turned out to be Howard Rheingold’s book—Net Smart. Howard was familiar with my dilemma: “…distraction online often leads to discovery, and only becomes a problem when it grows compulsive and saps time from a more important task.” He recommended becoming more self-aware and mindful of how we use time. Howard said that we need to review the “basics of mindfulness. Formulate goals and turn them into intentions by paying attention every once in a while to what you are doing at the moment, and then reflecting briefly on how what you are doing relates to your larger goal.”
I am still developing the “basics of mindfulness” on a day-to-day basis. This is very hard for my curious, self-indulgent self to do. But I jumped on his recommendation of an “infotention dashboard,” a tool to “bring the right information to you while you turn attention away from information that isn’t right for you.” To explain a little bit more, in the car, the dashboard tells us how fast we are going, how far we have driven, whether the engine is working properly, and things like that. Similarly, an infotention dashboard helps us filter and channel information we need to pursue our learning goals.
My learning dashboard is not yet as dynamic as I would like it to be, i.e., it is a static capture of the different pick-up points I use for incoming information and streams for me to share with others. But it does help me focus my attention to spend more time reading and making sense of the topics and ideas most important to me. Just trying to put a learning dashboard together has been valuable to me. Here is what I have learned so far from my dashboard construction and use:
- Unnecessary duplication—The same information was clogging different channels. So I reduced the volume and the flows of incoming information to a few places—Hootsuite, email, and RSS feeds to my inbox.
- Prioritizing seeking, sensing, and sharing activities–I was spending way too much time gathering and reading and not nearly enough time making sense and sharing. Some personal knowledge building and content curating guides have recommended a 30-70 split on seeking information and doing something with it, i.e., organizing, sensing, and sharing your new learning with others. This flow of activity could look like this graphic by Harold Jarche. The irony is that this formula could lead to a new type of serendipity, one that’s better informed and connected to others. I need to edit my learning focus further to get a sharper outline of my learning priorities.
- Power of Habit—I need new cues, routines, and rewards a la Daniel Pink and Charles Duhig to find enough time to read, write, and contribute my truth to the online commons. My dashboard is tabbed on my browser and organized in my inbox but I am not yet reacting consistently to these visual cues. How does one better ritualize check-ins and organizing of information to yield more synthesis?
- Aspirational dashboard—Parts of my dashboard are still aspirational. While I have accounts at Slideshare, Wikispaces, Mindmeister, SpiderScribe, Vimeo, Piktochart, etc. for the sensing and sharing part of my learning, these activities still come down to occasional blog posts and specific collaborations with peers on joint writing projects. And finally…
- Comfort with words—I am still far more comfortable with narrative than with video, audio, and images for conveying my ideas. However, to my credit, my personal learning plan uses a matrix and graphic for organizing my choices and activities. The Dashboard is a mind map. And I am starting to use Piktochart for self-expression.
How are you managing your online learning? What tools and routines have you adopted to connect with the people and ideas that you trust and value? What do you wish to improve or change? I would love to know more about your choices for organizing and guiding your learning online. Please comment here or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.