How to Map Your Personal Network with Mind Maps & Twitter Lists

Recently I decided to map out my Personal Learning Network.  I had been thinking of doing this for a while so that I could see where there were gaps in my networks to form new relationships and connections with people who were specialists in areas that interest me – either for my own learning or as a way to understand the business, the environment and the challenges of my clients.

I used the free version of the MindMeister tool which I have used in the past to capture notes while doing a needs analysis and interviews with my clients.  However, I don’t use mind maps as often as I should.  The only time I used them is if I have so many competing and different thoughts in my head and I need to put them into some structure and categories.  Most of the time, I prefer to use the linear approach of the smart art in a PowerPoint template to plan out the themes, questions and create dot points for discussion and then jot down my own handwritten notes into a *shock horror* paper note pad.  (I seem to recall more things discussed if I physically write things down on paper).  The latter is proving to be difficult as it uses up my time transcribing hand written notes back into some electronic format.  (Note to self: Maybe I should invest in a LiveScribe pen?)

During one of my morning walks, I pondered about the people who I learn from and who I go to if I need some help, support and guidance.  The idea came about because for the last two weeks I’ve been on an exploratory journey with a new iMac finally making the move from Windows to an Apple computer with little success and a lot of frustration.  Through it all, I’ve had a few people help me out by providing links to helpful articles and videos for which I’m most grateful.  So that got me thinking who else do I go to as my first ‘ports of call’ for assistance in a variety of topics – and, who shares interesting, relevant information as well as shares their knowledge openly to the world about what they’re doing and learning that have helped me in some way?  Also does my PLN change from time to time?

So the idea of mapping out my current PLN in detail was born.

Using Twitter Lists To Organise Your PLN

Many may have notice that I use Twitter Lists as the way to filter who I follow but I have 45 of them! Some of them are my own, others I subscribe to but one thing I have noticed is that many people don’t use Twitter Lists and I find this slightly irritating.  I guess it’s a selfish thought because in my mind, I think, “if they had a Twitter list, I can subscribe to that and save me some time!” but when you really think about it, that’s not the point of a PLN.  After all, it has to be P-E-R-S-O-N-A-L.  (Which then explains why I end up unsubscribing and then deleting my subscription to other people’s Twitter Lists anyway).

So how do I manage it all?

Don’t think that I spend hours of my day trawling through each list.  In fact, these are the only lists I access on a DAILY basis:

1. Friends

2. CAWW Alumni (this is Celine Schillinger’s Change Agents World Wide @CelineSchill list)

3. My Personal Learning Network  (this is a list that I review every 6 months or so))

4. Curators

5. Members of #3Place (Australian Learning and Development professionals who are members of my meet up group called Third Place)

Every few days, I will check the other lists if I need inspiration and new ideas – or simply tweets I haven’t seen before.

I also create new lists to explore new networks into different fields, industries or sectors and these are usually centred around the types of problems my clients are dealing with (eg. SharePoint Community) or my client’s industries (eg.  Health, Australian Digital Future, Vocational Sector etc).  Sometimes when working with clients, you may not be given access to speak to different people in their business to understand the broader environment to address the performance problem so one way to overcome this is to use my networks across Twitter, LinkedIn and my own friends and ex-colleagues in similar industries to chat about the issues, challenges and environment so that I’m better prepared when working with my client.

So back to my Personal Learning Network mind map.

I decided to colour code the mind map and all the green areas are the critical networks that I use in my work on a daily basis; orange as required & when needed; red denotes “on ice”; while blue are simply the ones that are my own personal interest.  I also included people who are directly close to me (my friends and acquaintances who have specialist knowledge and networks) into the map.

Sometimes, if the field is especially new to me, or particularly specific, I will have only one to a few people in it.  In these cases, these people have their own networks in this area and are able to help me out to find the answers I’m looking for – or at least steer me in the right direction.  In one area, the Third Space or Community network I realised that I don’t have any specific people but simply a mixture of organisations, community and co-working hubs that I access on a weekly basis but as yet, I still haven’t found one person with a lot of experience or specialist knowledge in this space – and who is locally connected.  This is interesting for me because it’s not only an area I want to explore further as much as it is a completely new area for me.  I’ll see how this pans out but it’s something I’m actively working on.  It can lead me somewhere – or it can lead me nowhere.  Let’s see…

Recently I also read Mark Britz (@britz)  Conversations Bring Change, Naturally blog post where he noted how he too has been experiencing the shift away from being L&D-centric to a whole organisation approach.  In his post he says,

In reflecting on this moment over the past week I started looking back at my conversations online, my blog posts over the past few months and years and the pattern was obvious; I have slowly shifted away from being L&D-centric and have been seeing the whole organization’s role in impacting individual performance. Learning is a part of the work not apart from it. And thus learning is mostly indistinguishable from the other activities that make up the work we do, it is an unconscious underpinning. No longer does learning, in the formal sense, dominate my thinking and practice any more than communication, human interaction, culture, leadership, and trust.

So this too was reflected in my PLN mind map.  I noticed that I have more people in the Future of Work network in the last year whereas when I first started out in Twitter, my Learning and Development network was much larger.  Ever since leaving full time work in corporate learning and development I have been reading more about responsive, networked organisations and the future of work. I’m beginning to wonder if over time, this too will change.  What will next year’s PLN look like?  Will it have more Third Space or Community Networks?  Will it be the same?

I believe that PLN’s don’t actually have a firm expiry date but simply, slowly over time may lose relevance if your work, learning or interests change over time. In that time, you may have created a new PLN into areas, industries and interests that are completely different to what you started out with but you may have made some strong connections and friendships with people who will stay with you.  Also it is important to have networks beyond those in your own organisation or your own field so that you can be exposed to different ideas, insights and perspectives.

Check out my Personal Learning Network in the mind map below.

Mind map

What do you think?  Have you mapped your personal learning networks?

About the author – Helen Blunden:

Helen is the founder of Activate Learning Solutions and Third Place a social networking and co-working group for Australian Learning and Development professionals).

She has over 24 years experience in learning and development across private, public and not-for-profit organisations. With a specialty in performance consulting and social learning, Helen believes that workplace learning is integral to business success. She has a passion for enabling people to learn beyond the classroom through networks and communities that drive collaboration, co-operation and meaning within their organisation. She uses social and informal learning through effective use of enterprise social networking and collaboration tools and platforms and is an advocate of “working out loud” on her blog. Follow Helen on Twitter @ActivateLearn.

1 Comment
  1. Andy Lopata 4 years ago

    This is an interesting blog Helen, thanks. A lot of people ask me about structuring networks and you outline two good approaches.

    There are a couple of challenges that I can see. The first is the perennial issue of time. How long do you invest in creating, updating and reviewing your network lists? And what value do they offer you in return for that investment?

    The other is managing a very large network. How wide do you go and how selective do you get?

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