Working amongst knowledge professionals within the international development sector, we were dazzled by the rise of Web 2.0 or Social Media (as it is now referred to) and the opportunities it offered. The information age is characterized by the enormous amount of information made easily available online, but a new challenge arises. Namely how do you discern efficiently and effectively which information is relevant for you without spending tons of hours googling? And how do you ensure you have the most recent relevant information so that you are asking the right questions?
As knowledge professionals your expertise relies on accurate and up to date information. Networking with experts in your field is a means to achieve this. But especially within the international development sector, networking often means attending costly conferences which were located far away. And even being present at a conference (close by or far away) does not guarantee you meet or speak to that one person whose recently acquired knowledge is crucial to your field of work or research.
As more and more people become active in online knowledge networks, exchanging experiences, lessons learned, and debating recently published work; the opportunities to network and stay informed in your field transfers from limited time & space face-to-face settings, to worldwide and every single day. And the network of expertise you can tap into grows exponentially. The new challenge then becomes, which online knowledge networks should you be tapping into which are relevant for you?
That is the great thing about online social networking. We all gain our knowledge by tapping into the knowledge of others. It is technology which can ease the information transfer, but it’s the people behind the technology that are doing the sharing.
When you find information relevant for your work or study, note the person(s) behind the information and follow them. Find what LinkedIn groups they are members of, if they have a facebook page, or twitter or reddit account, etc and follow them. Use Google Push notifications to become alerted as soon as they publish something new. Google push notifications can also be used to alert you on new information in your field with the use of relevant keywords.
By applying a push filter to the enormous amount of ‘noise’ on the internet, which brings the information to you which you should have today, you avoid the unnecessary time lapse which delays knowledge growth. It also ensures you are asking the right questions, versus questions which have already been answered. Put another way, by using filters or “push technology” you ensure you receive relevant information as soon as it is available, versus having to define search criteria and searching through the vast amount of information online. Without being fully informed you may even be searching for the wrong information, or less relevant information for your field of study.
A little anecdote may be illustrative here. Once during a conference, as I tend to do, I started up a conversation with strangers during lunch. Many great things have followed from sitting next to strangers at conferences, I can recommend it to everyone! During the conversation it turned out that my neighbor and I were interested in similar specific topics and we discovered that he had been following me for several months already on the then new social bookmarking platform ‘Delicious’. Without have met me, he was already benefitting from the information I was reading, evaluating, filtering and reposting online. Freeing up his time to do other reading, evaluating, filtering and sharing online. We were bundling our strengths and benefitting from each other’s information curation habits.
An overused but illustrative quote made popular by Isaac Newton is
“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Learning is a social activity. And even when you are a freshman in college you can benefit enormously by tapping into online knowledge networks discussing the same things you are discussing in class.
Your professors and peers are incredibly rich sources of information directly available in your vicinity. As are the libraries you have access to thanks to the tuition fee you are paying the university. But why limit your exposure to knowledge to those networks physically available around you? And consider when you graduate from college, when you no longer have access to the vast libraries with published research. The shelf life of your academic knowledge is limited. As a knowledge professional, how will you ensure you have the right information at the right time? Developing the right skills during your enrollment at the university can ensure you continue to stay relevant as a knowledge professional in your later career.