10 Ways to Learn From Twitter

Twitter is powerful. In just 140 characters, users have organized political movements, ruined reputations of the famous, and reported first on timely events. Though you may have no desire to cause cataclysmic changes with Twitter, there is a lot you can learn by using this potent tool.

You can use Twitter, a social-networking app for sharing brief messages (tweets), as a platform for personal and professional growth and enrichment. Twitter users share resources, engage in conversations and build relationships. Here are 10 ways you can learn by using Twitter.

1. Get Breaking News

First-hand accounts of important news stories often break on Twitter before they are reported by news media services. According to the UK Guardian, “Twitter has become the ‘new’ newswires. It has supplanted AP, Dow Jones and Bloomberg for breaking news.”

Nothing beats citizen reporters who use Twitter to spread information about real-time events. But use caution. We still need journalists to check the accuracy of facts and to put things in context.

Twitter Trends. One way to seek out the latest news is through Twitter’s trending topics. Once you are registered for Twitter, you’ll find the Trends List on your home page and also at twitter.com and hashtags.org.

Trends are provided by location. Trends are determined “by an algorithm and are tailored for you based on who you follow and your location. This algorithm identifies topics that are immediately popular, rather than topics that have been popular for a while or on a daily basis,” according to Twitter. When you click a trend on the list, related tweets will display.

How to change location. You can choose to see Trends for other locations also. To do this, click Change in the Trends box on your Twitter home page. Choose Select your location if the list Twitter provides is too narrow. You can then select a specific country or Worldwide.


2. Use Twitter as a Search Engine

With more than 500 million registered users, an abundance of searchable information passes through Twitter. You can perform Twitter searches at their search page (twitter.com/search-home) or in the search box of your home page.

Search works with keywords, phrases and hashtags. If you’re new to Twitter, a hashtag is a keyword phrase preceded by the pound sign, like this: #elearning. There is no requirement to use hashtags in a tweet, but it does help categorize topics in the Twitter stream.

Some resources for Twitter search:

3. Participate in Twitter Chats

Twitter chats are regularly scheduled online events where people converse about a particular topic. Participants use a specific hashtag to view the ongoing conversation and to filter out the rest of the Twitter stream. For example, the hashtag for learn chat is #lrnchat.

Using chat software makes it easier to follow the rapidly moving conversation. Here are three options:

  • Twubs
  • tchat.io
  • TwChat (lets you create a real-time chat room)

There are Twitter chats for an astounding mix of subjects. Check the links below for topics and schedules.

  • Twitter Chat Schedule
  • Education and Learning Twitter Chats

4. Build a Network from Lists

One of the essential ways to make Twitter valuable is to build a personal learning network (PLN) of people who share resources of interest to you. You can return the favor by sharing resources to others.

This simple act of sharing is little understood by non-Twitter users, who think that tweets consist of trivial chatter. Instead, if you follow active and thoughtful people, you’ll be rewarded with more articles, resources and posts than you can keep up with.

But how do new users gather a network of people with similar interests? Although building your network is an ongoing process, you can get a good start by subscribing to Lists curated by Twitter users. To see if someone you’re following has created a list, go to the person’s profile and click on Lists on the left. You can see this highlighted in orange below. (Sorry, I don’t curate lists, but I should!)


Also, pay special attention to your feed on Fridays. There’s a Twitter tradition to recommend people to follow on that day. If you see the hashtag #FF (Follow Friday) and a series of names, check and see if you’d like to follow the people recommended in the tweet.

5. Get Nearly Instant Advice

A quick way to learn is to ask your Twitter network open-ended questions. As long as the question can be answered within the 140 character limit, this is an ideal way to tap into a group’s collective knowledge.

I recently queried my network for recommendations on the best RSS readers and received some excellent replies. People are quite responsive on Twitter. This saved me hours of researching and reading. Don’t forget to return the favor and provide advice to others.

6. Participate in the Backchannel

The backchannel is generally any secondary means of communicating information. One form of the backchannel is using Twitter to participate in a conversation during a conference or webinar event. Through the backchannel, you can discover what audience members are thinking and see the world from different perspectives. You can also broadcast your experience of an event to those who aren’t attending. Collaborative tweeting from participants is another way to learn and grow.

7. Generate and Share Content

We all know that one of the best ways to learn is to teach others. Participating in the Twitter stream lets you feel the pulse of the conversation. You might get inspired to jump in and start a blog, create videos or show and share your work in some form. For example, you can use Twitter’s Vine to share 6-second videos or share photos of something you’ve created. The essence of Twitter is social sharing.

8. Use for Research

Twitter has gone mainstream. You can now include tweets in academic papers. To use Twitter for research, ask questions and record the answers or search through the Twitter stream. There are even standards for citing tweets. See the accepted formats below.

9. Meet Twitter Friends at Conferences

A surprising benefit of Twitter is the friendships that grow through collaborating and conversing in 140 characters. Over time, you’ll enjoy meeting some of these online friends at conferences, workshops and other events. The in-person conversations and exchange of ideas will lead to increased learning and growth.

10. Learn about new jobs, events and publications

Be sure to follow the Twitter handle (username) of job sites, organizations and publications within and outside of your field. This is an excellent way to use Twitter to expand your horizons. Here are some suggestions:

As learning professionals, you can spread the word for how to use Twitter for learning and development in your organization. How do you use Twitter to learn? Please teach us more ways in the Comments below. And I invite you to connect with me on Twitter: @elearningcoach.


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