More than just a flavor of the month
In a recent discussion on a LinkedIn forum for Learning, Education, and Training Professionals, someone posed the question: “Is anyone using Twitter as a training tool?” I was surprised to see h0w polarized the conversation became. Many of those who derided the suggestion argued that Twitter’s 140 character limit curtails or outright prevents its use in training because you can’t have a meaningful discussion in 140 characters or less. Quite a few people seemed to feel that Twitter’s just another flash-in-the-pan tool.
Twitter for education and training
While it’s easy to say that the naysayers “just don’t get Twitter,” the discussion made me consider how I use Twitter. At the outset, let me say that I firmly believe that we should “harness technology to the needs of education, rather than simply search for problems to which the latest technology is a solution” (Laurillard, 2008) . Like many, I’m very skeptical of hype. However, while I respect evidence-based instructional design, I don’t necessarily wait for research outcomes before trying something, particularly if I’ve heard of good results in contexts similar to mine. By the same token, if the tool doesn’t fit, I don’t force it.
So with this disclaimer out of the way, I’ll put my stake in the ground and say that Twitter:
- Is not for in-depth one-on-one discussions
- Won’t suddenly provide you with critical thinking skills
- Won’t allow you to get specific about all the steps/principles/concepts required for a training task
But it’s still very useful as one part of an arsenal of many training tools.
Twitter allows you to:
- Network with highly respected members of your profession as well as with newcomers who might be the next, best innovative thinkers
- Tap into a human search engine that culls daily through online information to share useful tidbits and important ideas
- Connect with people you’d otherwise never meet and benefit from their ideas
- Be exposed to professionals in other fields who can provide a different perspective on your own field
- Identify people you might collaborate with
- Follow clients to understand what’s important in their industries
- Engage in synchronous dialogs on topics of professional interest via hashtags (e.g., #lrnchat and #hcsm allow me to connect with learning professionals and health care activists, respectively)
- Identify new trends (because those new tools being tweeted about just might be the thing that your instructional design really needs)
- Supplement an audience analysis you’re undertaking for a performance analysis or training needs assessment
- Provide others with useful information
Becoming a Twitter Power User
Still, I can see how those dipping their toes into the Twitter stream might not see the advantages at first pass. You do need to use Twitter in a purposeful way. Additionally, Twitter’s associated with a host of other online tools (many, if not most of them, free), that can greatly expand its capabilities.
Because I wanted to expand my own use of Twitter, I recently went through the excellent list of Twitter tools provided by the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies (C4LPT) and did some sleuthing on my own to find ones that are most useful for my purposes.
Twitter will never be a stand-alone search engine but it is useful to see what people who share your professional interests are finding and considering tweet-worthy. You can browse your followers’ tweets but you can also explore the larger Twitterverse using the search engines below.
- Twitter Search: Find tweets including your keywords. You can create an RSS feed for a search and tweet the results of your search
- Twoogle: Search both Twitter and Google at the same time, and get results side-by-side in the same window
- Twootles: Similar to Twoogle, but the Twitter portion of the search results occupies less space, which I prefer
- Bingtweets: Fuses Bing search results with the latest tweets; does not display Bing results side-by-side with tweets
- Searchtastic: Searches “historical” tweets from months ago and exports search results to Excel
- Scoopler: Provides a search engine that displays recently shared web pages side-by-side with Twitter results, culling information from Twitter, Digg, Delicious, and Flickr
- Social Mention: Social Mention monitors ≥80 social media platforms including: Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, YouTube, Digg, Google, etc. Filters are displayed graphically to let you see top hashtags, top sources of information, and even sentiment.
- Twazzup: Similar to Scoopler but provides a more visual display of results and more features, including highlights, news, top links, and community influencers
- AskOnTwitter: You can try asking a question outright on Twitter and you can sometimes get direct replies. If you use the words “does anyone know,” your question will be added to the AskOnTwitter page. (When I experimented with this, no one ever did answer my question.)
- LazyTweet: LazyTweet will collect answers to questions posed on Twitter from the Twitterverse and will display those answers. Just tweet your question, and include the word “lazytweet” or “lazyweb” in it (or #lazytweet, #lazyweb, @lazytweet, or @lazyweb).
- Remember the milk: Allows you to send reminders via direct messages to yourself or friends. Can be used to provide task reminders or healthy habit reminders (e.g., as part of a health education program).
- TwitterCal: Lets you add entries to your Google Calender via direct messages to “gcal”
- Screenr: This is an extremely easy tool to use and allows you to create instant screencasts for Twitter or YouTube. The only downside is the lack of editing functionality.
- ScreenTweet: Allows you to share videos, pictures, screen shots, and images on Twitter
- Tinychat: Allows you to create instant video chat rooms
- TwitCam: Allows you to stream live from your webcam to a broadcast page
- Tvider: Allows you to tweet videos, images and even audio from mobile devices or webcams
- Vidly: Allows you to share photos or videos on Twitter. Requires a download.
- write4net: When 140 characters aren’t enough, just write your text into the field provided on the Write4net web page and Write4net will publish it using your Twitter account. This service basically lets you blog without creating an actual blog site.
- Twitterfeed: Allows you to feed your blog’s rss feed to Twitter and Facebook to reach a larger audience.
- Twonvo: Two-way Twitter conversations can get lost in the Twitter stream. This application allows you to isolate and view your conversation thread in a separate window.
- TweetGuru: Allows you to send direct messages to groups of users. You can send task reminders or provide tips and tricks at intervals to learners (e.g., as a spaced repetition tool)
- tweetbook.in: Allows you to archive your tweets (or the tweets of others), save them in pdf form, and create visuals that include your tweets. This tool can be useful to keep a record of tweets over time and see how opinions on a subject change.
- TweetBackup: A web-based way to back up your tweets
- Backupify: Not just for Twitter, Backupify provides daily automatic backups, archiving, and export for multiple social media and cloud-based data.
- Poll Everywhere: A tool I mentioned on my post on SMS as a learning tool, Poll Everywhere allows you to display responses to a poll question in real-time using a presentation tool like PowerPoint.
- TwitPoll: Allows you to create both polls and surveys and share them on Twitter. You can also search preexisting polls and surveys.
While Twitter and Twitscoop tap into the larger Twitterverse to identify topics that are trending, there are occasions when you want to identify trends relating to specific keywords that you’re particularly interested in.
- Cuesense: Envisioned as a marketing tool, Cuesense allows you to view tweets that are positive, negative, or related to keywords you input and will also display tweets over time in graphical form. Trend spotting can be a useful way to supplement an audience analysis when you perform a performance analysis or training needs assessment.
- hashtags.org: Permits real-time tracking of Twitter hashtags (and search terms in general). Graphically displays tweets over time.
- Monitter: This tool really appeals to the multitasker in me. Type three different search terms into three different search fields and watch parallel real-time twitter streams.
- The Health Tweeder: A twitter visualizer for health care trends
Expanding your network
- Find People: Search profiles using keywords to find people with common interests or with knowledge you’d like to tap into
- TwitterSticker: Allows you to add a Twitter sticker like the one below on your Web site or blog. It’s extremely easy to use and let’s viewers get a feel for your Tweets without bombarding them with your entire Twitter stream.
Organizing information and connecting across social networks
Tweetdeck: An Adobe Air application you download to your desktop, Tweetdeck allows you to sort and filter your tweets and view tweets on a multi-column display. It also connects you with contacts from a variety of applications including:
- Google Buzz
HootSuite: Allows you to monitor keywords, manage multiple Twitter profiles, create teams, assign tasks, schedule tweets, and monitor responses to your tweets. You can also spot trends by monitoring tweets related to specific keywords. Last but not least, HootSuite allows you to update multiple social networks at the same time.
Creative ways of displaying tweets
- paper.li: Displays your tweets or tweets relating to a hashtag in a newspaper format with graphics and images. Here’s a “newspaper” on health care and one on elearning.
- Utweet: Turn your tweets into a video peopled by enthusiastic teenagers bopping around to a disturbingly cheerful techno beat. Doesn’t really work when you’re looking at Tweets on a serious subject like health care. (Here’s the elearning video.)
- Twittospheric: Purports to allow you to see in real-time all tweets about any topic; however, planets might have evolved while I waited for tweets to scroll by. (I inputted the term “healthcare”).
- Twitterfall: Tweets “fall” into place when you add a search term. Create a waterfall of tweets. There’s no obvious purpose to this.
- Twittervision: Let’s you see real-time Twitter postings displayed on a world map. A cool idea, however, the tweets are rather slow to display (at least when I tried it).
Gathering groups of people in the physical world
- Twtvite: Create and find Tweetups (that’s a meeting)
When privacy’s important
A barrier to using Twitter as an integral part of a training exercise in a corporate setting is the issue of privacy, but there are solutions to this problem.
- GroupTweet converts direct messages to a group account into a tweet that all the followers of a group can see. You can keep these tweets private by protecting your group account.
- SavorChat: A free group chat application that allows you to create private as well as public chat rooms and connect both your Twitter and Facebook updates
- TodaysMeet allows you to create a private Twitter chat room for your audience and does not require the use of hashtags
You can also try another microblogging platform.
- Flokio: Allows you to create public or private groups
- Miio: a free service that allows multimedia posting, versatile privacy options, and threaded replies to create a greater community feel
- Obayoo: No longer free, Obayoo’s another microblogging service that can be adapted for corporate users
- Presently: A micro-blogging platform that offers a free web-hosted account as well as a fee-based behind-a-firewall platform
- ShoutEm: Allows you to create your own microblogging community which can be public or private. It also lets you sync your status updates on Twitter and Facebook
- Socialcast: An enterprise microblogging platform; has free and less-free options
- Twingr: A microblogging platform that allows you to add a microblog to your website, which means you can use it to create a community of interest around a service you’re providing
- Yammer: Only people with a verified company email address can join your company network when you use this service
- Yonkly: The site administrator can control the character limits; offers integration with Flickr
- Twittelator: Twitter for the iPhone
- Tweetie for iPhone
- TwitterBerry: Twitter for Blackberry users
- ÜberTwitter: Another platform for Blackberry users
Now don’t be daunted—consider this a smorgasbord of tools. Take what you need.
Have I convinced you? Do you think that Twitter can be used for training? Take the poll.
Laurillard, D. (2008). The teacher as action researcher: Using technology to capture pedagogic form. Studies in Higher Education, 33(2), 139-154.