Skip to main content

Social Media: Fueling Informed Learning

By Brett D. Christensen, MSc, CPT, CTDP

Setting the Stage
It is three days after the ISPI conference in Montreal. I am always charged up when I get back from a conference and have a burning desire to change the world. The difference this time is I no longer work in a monolithic organization where I hit the wall of “we don’t do it that way” or “that is not a priority” when I get home. Refreshing indeed!

I’m a member of the virtual Performance Improvement Book Club. If you haven’t heard of it, Dr. Ryan Watkins started it in the fall of 2009. Our current book is Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways that Inspire Innovation and Performance by Jay Cross (2007), which I have been enjoying immensely. This of course has put the topic of informal learning top of mind with me for the past few months.

One of the topics that really caught my interest at this year’s conference was big data as it is all the rage these days and I just happen to be doing work with a client who has developed an application that helps you hone in on social media data in various applications like Twitter and Blogs. At past conferences, I was aware that tweeting was going on but I never participated as I didn’t really understand Twitter. I have an account. I look at it sometimes, but the volume of tweets and the hashtag this and hashtag that seemed like something the cool kids said. I really didn’t want to play, so I stayed with Facebook and LinkedIn where I am most comfortable.

So here I was in Montreal and it was the perfect storm! I’m not talking about the never-ending rain, but my current interest in informal learning, my client’s software, conference twittering and multiple sessions on big data! As an aside — it’s still raining, which has me inside writing instead of outside landscaping. Fortuitous.

Twitter – A Primer

If you are not a user of Twitter, here is a quick primer. If you are, you can probably skip ahead to “The Conference.” Users post up to 140 character updates (tweets) along with links to things they think are interesting, funny, or useful to their followers (“following” being essentially what “friending” is on other sites).

People use Twitter in many ways, some as a newsfeed by following prominent people or networks, some as a pseudo-chatroom by limiting their followers and whom they follow to close friends and family, and some as a microblog for updating people about the work they are doing and their personal lives. You choose who you do or do not follow and, as such, have control over what you see. You do not, however, control who follows you unless your account is set to private (Hische, 2010). Look! I am learning informally!

There is much more functionality to Twitter than I was aware of and Hische describes it all very clearly on her website. The piece that is relevant to us is the hashtag or #. Hische explains that “Hashtags are a way to label tweets so that other users can see tweets on the same topic. Hashtags contain no spaces or punctuation and begin with a ‘#’ symbol. Many times, at events like conferences or concerts, the organizers will tell attendees to add a particular hashtag to their tweets to gather opinions about the event and unite people at the same event.” This year’s conference was #ispi2017.

The Conference
This year, I had a plan! I have access to my client’s software while we are designing training, exercises and job aids so I wanted to tweet to the max and then use the software to look at the results. The experiment was a success and had some unexpected consequences!

Figure 1 below shows the top 16 tweeters for #ispi2017. Sonia Di Maulo was the most prolific individual tweeter, followed by Julie Daignault and myself tied for 3rd. I can’t say the top tweeters at the conference, because Guy Wallace tied with Tim Quiram for 4th and Guy wasn’t there!

1: Top Tweeters at ISPI 2017

The ISPI Chapters in Montreal and Potomac were the busiest organizational tweeters along with the Institute 4 Worthy Performance, which is led by Dr. Tim Brock. I posted this graph to Twitter on May 4, so if you are a Twitterer, you may have already seen it.

Unexpected outcome #1: People not at the conference are following what happens.

On day two of the conference, I attended the session PI Mavericks: An unorthodox view of Performance Improvement with Roger Addison, Margo Murray and Roger Kaufman.

Margo recommended that practitioners should look for new skills and knowledge to use inside our community — outside of the community. Great advice! I tweeted it.

A fellow Boise State Alum, Shelley Gable (2017) replied to me with a question, shown below, I posed the question to the Mavericks and sent the answers back to Shelley — which anyone who searches for #ispi2017 will find.

Unexpected outcome #2: The value of the session was increased by someone not at the conference.

Unexpected outcome #3: People not at the conference are gaining value
during the conference.

Unexpected outcome #4: The value extends after the conference by capturing the information under the conference hashtag.

Another person not at the conference also jumped into the conversation (not shown above) and shared his forays outside of the field. Yet another extension of the topic, learning and our networking. Awesome.

There are many other examples of how Twitter was used to share people’s experiences at the conference. A quick check on Facebook and LinkedIn showed that people were busy sharing their experiences there as well. A missed opportunity for me to share! With a little more informal learning on Sunday morning while the house was quiet, I figured out that you can configure LinkedIn to send your post to Twitter and then have Twitter send it straight on to Facebook! Three for the price of one (Ghandafar, 2014)!

As I noted above, LinkedIn and Facebook are my go-to social media sites and my following there is much bigger. If you didn’t go to the conference, you can still go to your favorite social media application and do a search for #ispi2017 and see what you missed.

Looking Ahead
Jay Cross (2007) said, “Knowledge workers of the future will have instant, ubiquitous access to the Net. The measure of their learning is an open-book exam. ‘What can you do?’ has been replaced with, ‘What can you and your network connections do?’” p. 18.

As co-chair for the 2018 ISPI Conference in Seattle (#ispi2018), I spent most of the train ride home pondering how we can further lever social media leading up to, during and after next year’s conference to help us do what we do individually and as a professional society.

 I learned a lot about Twitter and how it can support my (and your) informal learning at this conference. Of the hundreds of attendees at the conference, only 89 made a tweet with the #ispi2017. Data! The conference generated approximately 800 tweets over the two-and-a half days. More data! I wonder what the impact would be next year if all the conference attendees posted a minimum of five things on social media about #ispi2018 and it resonated with 10 percent of their followers. That would be significant! Of course, I still don’t know what I don’t know. If there are some social media–savvy folks out there who would like to advise or help with increasing its use in Seattle, I would love to hear from you.

Interestingly, there has been an average of 12 more #ispi2017 and #ispi2018 related tweets daily since the conclusion of the conference, up to May 10. One of my first orders of business is to learn how to use these social media tools more effectively to communicate the work leading up to the conference with the aim of generating more buzz! ISPI’s new President Scott Casad and your conference committee envision social media as the primary driver for conference marketing. Keep an eye on #ispi2018!

If you are interested in joining the virtual Performance Improvement Book Club, another one of my favourite informal learning methods, send an email to If you would like to hear recordings of the discussions on past books, they are available at

About the Author

Brett retired from a 30-year career in the Canadian Forces in 2014. He is the owner and principal of
Workplace Performance Consulting and an adjunct graduate professor at Boise State University. Brett is a CPT (2011), a CTDP (2007) and has an M.Sc. and B.Com. He also volunteers for ISPI and hopes you will too! He has written for PerformanceXpress, the Performance Improvement Journal, eLearn Magazine and blogs at He can be contacted at


@shelleyisgoing. “Yes! Any specific fields recommended? I’m drawn to marketing and PR lately.” Twitter, 02 May 2017, 9:46 a.m.,

Cross, J. (2007). Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways that Inspire Innovation and Performance. San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Ghandafar, B. (2014, August 28). Save time and link your social accounts together, Including Google+! Retrieved from LinkedIn:

Hische, J. (2010). Mom this is how Twitter works. Retrieved from Mom this is how Twitter works: