Understanding the different types of Mutant Learners, and the criteria required for an effective Mutant Learning Lab tool, we are now equipped to move into the five steps needed to build your own Mutant Learning Lab.
Step 1. Connect: Join the relevant few
As we have already suggested, learning is exploding everywhere—you can find information on any topic no matter where you are. But knowing where to find what you are looking for is essential, not only for saving time but also for saving your sanity. To connect means to create your Professional Online Presence (POP), which constitutes the groups, social media and networks you belong to and your online appearance. Your POP is your profile and holds the key to your online influence.
You must first establish your POP in order to benefit from this new world of learning, and to effectively build your Mutant Learning Lab. According to a Nielsen Social Media Report, “in 10 major global markets, social networks and blogs reach over 75 percent of active Internet users.” This means most of you reading this post are probably already socially connected in the traditional social media sense. However, we hope to introduce you to a new way of thinking about social media, and a new skill set on how you use social media for learning.
The mantra for this step is to “join the relevant few” because you can very easily get caught in an online web of irrelevance. According to British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, there is a limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. While there is not a precise number, “Dunbar’s number” averages between 100 and 230.
While we are not suggesting that you have only 150 social connections, we are saying that there is some merit to only joining the relevant few. This will ensure that your connections are manageable and strong (as opposed to unmanageable and weak) and will enable you to join only those sites and be connected to only those specific groups that help you become competent in the topic you choose.
It’s important to also keep in mind that Dunbar was studying social relationships in which people kept in touch through traditional means; social media has largely expanded our social networks by allowing us to keep in touch easily with people we rarely see or barely know. Maintaining stable social relationships on Facebook could be defined as “liking” your friends’ interests, businesses and posts, even if you don’t actually like them. Within this new social stratosphere, clicking a “thumbs up” icon qualifies as an appropriate social interaction, and it is very possible to maintain stable social relationships with hundreds of people. However, for your Mutant Learning purposes we suggest keeping your connections to only a relevant few, which we consider to be between 60 and 150.
By October 2011, the total number of people who had joined Facebook would have qualified it as the world’s third largest country (behind China and India). The number of members joining Facebook and other social media sites continues to grow at a staggering rate. Social media is clearly becoming the new normal, as stated by Nielsen’s State of Social Media 2011 Report. Social media can be an effective form of informal learning, if you take the right approach.
For starters, you should join the Big 3 social media sites – Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn — if you haven’t done so already. While LinkedIn is not your typical social network, it does share many social media characteristics, making it the number one method of connecting to other like-minded business professionals. The power of this network is found in the groups that are founded and run by experts in a wide variety of industries.
As you start connecting to the Big 3, make sure you separate out the benign, banal, and boring things that are so prevalent in some social media circles. Don’t waste your social time on irrelevant people or topics. Avoid the self-centered individuals who erroneously think the rest of the world cares what they are eating. Dump these folks from your Mutant Learning Lab. If you find them entertaining or interesting you can always follow their “adventures in suburbia” in your personal entertainment lab.
Choose to follow, like and join only relevant thought leaders, research sites, trade magazines and knowledge curators that can help you become competent in the topic or area that you have identified as your focus area. As we have already suggested, keep your Mutant Learning Lab manageable by keeping the number of overall sources and connections between 60 and 150 and organize them into functional groups. A simple way to accomplish this is to utilize the tools found within your respective social media platforms by creating appropriate lists, circles, or groups.
Connect to specific professional sites related to your topic of interest. If you are in Human Resources, for example, you may want to frequent the website of the Society of Human Resources Management (shrm.org).
You should also sign up for newsletters and set-up online memberships and RSS feeds to relevant trade magazines, research or business sites.
Want to know what a RSS feed is and how to set one up? Practice Mutant Learning by going online right now and asking the online community. You will find answers as a Google search in the form of tutorials, “how-to” lists and videos within seconds.
Collaboration is essential to Mutant Learning. You need to be connected to the right collaboration sites and networks in order to fully benefit from today’s wealth of information and knowledge. Collaboration could mean joining and contributing to a few relevant wikis, networking sites like LinkedIn or internal communities like Yammer or Chatter. The result of collaborating within the right groups and on the right websites can be extremely beneficial. There are even a few sites specifically dedicated to answering your questions using the combined wisdom of the community. Besides LinkedIn, other online answer sites include Quora, Yahoo! Answers and Answers.com.
Check in next week for the second step – Systemeatize – in building your very own, customized, Mutant Learning Lab.