If you want to learn something about a field you know little about, what do you do? There are many areas where I know very little, and learning about them in depth would be a major time commitment. Is there anything we can do do to make it easier? I think so.
My knowledge of biology is quite limited. I never took the subject in high school or in university. Part of my strategy in using social media, like Twitter, is to connect with people who know more than I do. Shaun Coffey @shauncoffey is one of these people. We share an interest in knowledge management and PKM, but Shaun has a background in agricultural science of which I know nothing. A recent tweet of his was a link to an article on GMO (genetically modified organisms) which is an area of interest to me as a consumer, but something I found rather complex to understand. Since I trust Shaun, I read the article, Unhealthy Fixation. While I am still not an expert, I feel better informed on GMO.
More of my knowledge and understanding is coming through my network. First I develop a relationship with the person, in understanding perspectives, depth of knowledge, and consistency. The small pieces shared and commented on via Twitter let me start to see patterns and determine the authenticity of the person. We don’t need to have conversations, as I can lurk on their conversations with others. Over time I can get a good sense of the person. This is why I follow Michael Geist @MGeist as he brings a fair and comprehensive perspective on Canadian Internet and e-commerce law. There are many others in my networks who help me make sense of my world, such as Valdis Krebs @orgnet for organizational network analysis.
Building knowledge networks of trusted connections is one way we can learn as a society and address the complex problems facing us. Nobody can do it alone. Explicitly using social media and social networks to better understand complex issues should be part of all education programmes and everyone’s professional practice. There is so much to know and very little time. I call this serendipitous drip-fed learning. You just have to find the feeds, thankfully of which there are many.