Note: This post has been updated and incorporated into 10 Ways to Be a Better Learner – an essential read for the serious lifelong learner.
I suspect most regular readers of Mission to Learn already have some sense of the power of networks when it comes to learning. As much as we may wish to learn, time is a finite resource – we can only have so many experiences and absorb so much content as individuals, regardless of whatever resources aside from time (e.g., money, power) we may have at our disposal. Our knowledge no longer resides solely in our own minds (if it ever did); it resides also in our connections. We have to rely on others if we truly want to expand our potential for learning.
Given this premise, it makes sense that one of the most important strategies for increasing our capacity as learners is to build a significant number of connections with others and – more importantly – to strive consciously to make the quality of these connections as high as possible. I find I tend to give priority to three factors when assessing potential additions to my own learning networks:
Naturally, there are other possible factors and other questions that can be asked about each, but the main point is to be conscious of the factors that make a learning connection valuable to you and to apply these factors actively in managing your learning networks. Sometimes that means applying them to find new connections; a lot of the time it means applying them to trim away connections that do not have significant value. It’s truly a matter of cultivating, not simply growing.
A couple of closing notes –
First, you may have noticed that I have said nothing about the Internet, social media, or other technologies above. I’ll get to those in a future post, but the focus here is on the actual points of connection – the “nodes” in network-speak – and working to increase the quality of those points.
Second, none of this is to imply that you need to take a cold, ruthless approach to managing your networks. Personally, I think both networks and learning benefit from a significant amount of chaos and complexity. Nonetheless, within all that chaos and complexity, you can strive to carve out and build upon a set of key connections that contribute significantly to your focused learning efforts.
What do you think? Are you making an active effort to cultivate your learning networks? What’s working and what’s not? Please comment and share.