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An Introduction to Twitter's Weekly Learning Chat

By Dave Ferguson, Christy Pettit / October 2009

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At a big professional conference, do you ever hang around the conference-hotel bar in the evening? Even better, in the lounge outside the bar? You find a lot of conference attendees talking about stuff connected to it. You can pretty easily join a group either just to listen or to chime in yourself.

#lrnchat is like that, except you have to bring your own drink.

#lrnchat is an informal weekly discussion on Twitter for learning professionals. A team of moderators announces a topic, and the chat runs Thursdays from 8:30 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. Eastern time. (Learn more at the #lrnchat blog.)

How #lrnchat Works
As you may know, on Twitter, users send and receive messages of 140 characters or fewer-the so-called tweets are sent to other users, distributed via various networks, platforms, and mobile devices. In theory, anyone can read them; in practice, only people who follow you (that is, who've added you to their list of Twitter contacts) are likely to ever see your tweets.

Tweets can include hashtags, which are codes beginning with "#" (thus, #lrnchat is a hashtag alerting you to messages related to the chat). Tools like TweetChat make it easy to see only the tweets with a corresponding hashtag. TweetChat also automatically adds the hashtag to your tweets, so your messages can become part of the chat stream.

So what does it really look like? Try skimming a transcript like this one from the Oct. 8 #lrnchat. New transcripts go up minutes after each #lrnchat ends.

So What?
As an independent learning professional, I get a lot out of lrnchat.

I was skeptical at first (ask the moderators), and Thursday evening isn't an ideal time for me. But I find I am energized by #lrnchat. I am spending time with dozens of people interested in things I'm interested in. I can't read everything that comes through the flow (last week's session had 67 participants and nearly 750 tweets, or a tweet nearly every 7 seconds), but that's what the transcripts are for. Also TweetChat enables me to mark a tweet as a favorite, so I can easily go back to it later.

Not only can I find out who is thinking about the specific topics that I'm interested in, but I also know a bit about what these different people think. By choosing to follow #lrnchat participants, their other tweets will become a part of my message stream. Since we already share an interest in learning, I'm not blindly following someone.

Because people also put hyperlinks into their tweets, I have new directions to explore. People link to blog posts, Web sites, presentations, videos. I can click right away, which is like resting on the bank of the #lrnchat stream, then slip back into the current. Or I can bookmark the link for later.

I've probably participated in half of the #lrnchats, and have gotten to know many people. Some I knew before through blogs and Facebook and similar social media connections. Others I've initially met via #lrnchat. Each week I find new connections. I decide to check their Twitter stream, then their Web sites, and when I'm impressed with what someone says, I'll check the list of people she or he follows, extending my network quickly and efficiently.

I also get to contribute. Just as I find others, they can find me. It's up to them to decide whether that's a good thing, but it's true for face-to-face meetings as well.

#lrnchat isn't a seminar. It's not a Web conference. It's not a graduate course. It's not a showcase for The Expert, though it is a place to find out more about expertise.

Enough About Me. What About You?
I wouldn't know if Twitter's right for you, let alone #lrnchat. Both remind me of those 3D "magic eye" puzzles—until you experience the 3D image rising off the two-dimensional page, you don't quite see what the fuss is about.

Maybe these aren't good venues for everyone, and that's fine. But if you're not sure, I'm including a "more stuff" section with links (mostly to people who aren't me) to help you make an informed decision.

See you Thursday night?

Additional Resources

I'm not a joiner. For my stress level, it's usually best to limit the number of discussion groups, clubs, and large committees I engage in. I abhor natural prattle and inertia to the point of grinding my teeth, though I know I miss out on the good things that happen around them.

It's too bad, because my life—professionally and as a parent—would be easier if I were wired differently. I'm more extroverted than not, I just gravitate strongly to small issue-based groups where I perceive more real things happen and more meaning is produced. That said, it is the very rare Thursday that I miss #lrnchat.

#lrnchat was my first Twitter chat group. It was like seeing something fast-moving in the distance that suddenly comes into focus. And then it was really hairy to try to get the rhythm, to do more than stare agog at the stream.

By the time I crafted a 140-character response to something, the stream had somersaulted so far ahead I had to furiously scroll up from the bottom of the page to catch up. The awkwardness of something new and my skeptical observance of what appeared like an in-crowd with inside jokes was soon overtaken with the utter value of it all. Mentors appeared and gave me nudges privately through direct mail about services I could use, rather than refreshing constantly from the Web and forgetting to type the # all the time. The experience quickly got better.

Participation is broad and balanced with room for humanity and debate, but no room for the inane. It's brainy. There is constant challenge to demonstrate application or at least clear applicability of ideas. It's prattle-free and at the opposite pole from inertia, despite the group being 70 or so strong, and growing. And there are some damn funny people.

Like most people on Twitter, I've found research and writing that has inspired my own research and writing. #lrnchat is that, but with laser sightings. Beyond the fact that the topic aligns with what I do and I get great information from the group, #lrnchat has actually enabled me to do some things in the "real world" I would not have done otherwise. Since May of this year I've:

  • been recommended to and connected with a stats tutor who fit my learning profile
  • started working on a project with Marcia Conner (@marciamarcia) of the Fast Company blog and Pistachio Consulting to update FAQs for new learning and development professionals
  • obtained a spot on the agenda for the big ASTD Web 2.0 conference in Arizona to present on my latest passion, social mentoring, via Dave Wilkinson (@dwilkinsnh) of
  • received some really meaningful advice and resources from pros in the K-12 learning business and #lrnchatters, such as Eric Taft (@erick1970) and Byron Davies (@daviesAZ), about alternative schooling options
  • had several live conversations with other #lrnchatters to explore current topics and opportunities
  • been alerted to a competitor's new service that overlaps with mine.

I've done all that without leaving the comfort of my home office and my "real things and real meaning" criteria.


  • Tue, 27 Oct 2009
    Post by Judy Unrein (@jkunrein)

    I'm glad to see #lrnchat getting attention! The timing isn't great for me but, like Dave, I am energized by #lrnchat and the conversations and connections that come from it. There are plenty of networking and learning opportunities available on the internet, but the immediacy of #lrnchat makes it something different entirely. Great job, Dave and Christy!