10 Ways to Be a Person of Influence & Join the Digital Professional Development Revolution

PTN2One of my most retweeted blog posts is an infographic about building your Online Personal Teaching Network. It is a simple visual to help others understand how they can become people of influence in the digital world while also gaining amazing opportunities for personal growth and development. It is based on the assumption that a personal learning network is good and important, but at some point many of us have a calling to teach, to share what we are learning with others, to think of our PLN as a chance to receive and give. That is where the personal teaching network starts. This article is really just an extension of the PTN concept, but I introduce ten mostly new ways to think about building your personal teaching network.

Follow my blog long enough and you’ll discover that this is my learning journal. I’m constantly reading, observing, exploring, experimenting, designing, creating, researching, and thinking. This is where my ideas get a soft début. They are most often in rough draft format, but I get tons of great feedback from around the world on what I write. From there, it might turn into a new professional connection, a consulting job, a contact from a publisher, a speaking engagement, an insight for my day job, or a new personal project. Through the contacts and experiences, I get to further refine my ideas, resulting in new blog posts, different publications, keynote and invited presentations, as well as more personal projects. For me, this the wonder of a connected world.

As much as I am a personal fan of blogging (writing is a powerful thinking tool for me), it is not the only way to go public with our professional development, inviting others to join in the fun and help us refine our thinking. Here are ten more ways to go about it, each representing a relatively new form of connected learning.

1. Unconference

This is a brilliant concept. Get experienced, creative, and passionate people together; and have them self-organize a high-impact event. Unlike a traditional conference where all the presenters and topics are carefully vetted and selected well in advance, the unconference chooses a time, place, theme and invites passionate people to gather and share. The first part of such an event is usually everyone gathering and writing topics on a card. These topics represent a session that they are willing to host or facilitate. All the cards get put on a large board and organized by theme and placed into a time slot. Then people disperse to the sessions of interest. It is less about one person presenting the entire time, and more about the group putting their minds and experiences together around a shared topic. People who’ve attended these events consistently praise the energy, ideas, and professional development value.

This doesn’t have to be difficult or intricate. Pick a place, time, and theme. Invite people. Invite more people. Get a few choice supplies, show up, and join in the professional development action. Here are two resources to get you started:

2. Virtual Unconference

This is just an unconference put online. People have hosted them in different ways. Here is one simple possibility.

First, create a Google Community for the event and invite people to join it. Announce it well in advance and make it as public and open as possible. Second, create a simple Google form and invite people to propose topics the week or two before the event. A few days before the event, sort them by theme and give each one a time. Third, create a Google Hangout invite through the Google Community, making sure the facilitator for each session accepts the invite. They are welcome to promote their session independently as well. Advertise the entire event a bit more and you have your first virtual unconference. The success is not measured by the size or number of topics, but instead the perceived value and engagement of the participants.

  • For another way of doing it, check out how they ran a sort of virtual unconference at Hybrid Pedagogy through asynchronous discussion forums.
  • Or, with a little creativity, you could probably do it on Twitter as well (see the Twitter chat discussion below).
  • The Virtual Unconference – This article shares a bit more about the idea, along with benefits and drawbacks.

3. Mini-MOOC

If you don’t know what a MOOC is, you might want to just skip this… or not. It takes a bit more planning, but most anyone can lead a Massive Open Online Course. You can use a platform like CourseSites at Blackboard, which is free and open to all. This is where you will build your course. However, the deign is important. There are xMOOCs and cMOOCs. The xMOOC is more teacher-directed, with the facilitator being the provider of most to all the content. The cMOOC is more collaborative, inviting the participants into contributing much of the work. For example, the first cMOOC in which I participated had the instructor create the syllabus and schedule, but then he invited all participants to add to it or edit it. So, you can crowd-source some of the planning. It still requires building a course with good bones: a solid syllabus, schedule, set of goals, learning experiences, and checks for understanding. You don’t need to use grades. In fact, why would you? Here are a few resources to help you explore this option. By the way, MOOCs can take lots of time. I spent hundreds of hours preparing for my first one. That is why I’m suggesting a mini-MOOC. Keep it at one to two weeks. You are also more likely to maintain active participation from people over a shorter period, and it is less of a time and emotional drain on you.


What if we take the idea of an unconference and mix it with a MOOC? We get what I’m calling a UnC-MOOC. It is really just a cMOOC that uses the method of an unconference for the group to self-organize. Pick a theme, create a vision and explanation statement, and get the word out. Have people propose various topics and how they want to facilitate it (through Twitter, a forum, a Google Hangout, a virtual scavenger hunt, an Instagram image sharing experience, or whatever other creative ideas people propose). Your job is not to censor or review, but just help coordinate and share the news. This could probably be facilitated entirely through a Google Community.

I can’t send you to any resources on this one because I made up the term (at least I think I did). Yet, if you’ve participated in an unconference as well as a cMOOC, then you probably get the idea.

5. Meetup

The most popular site for organizing meetups is simply called Meetup, and the idea is pretty simple. Post a topic, place, time, and invite people to gather. You can keep it simple, gathering in a coffee shop or other amenable public space to discuss, explore, or network. This is a fun and simple way to leverage the digital world to build local connections.

6. Virtual Meetup

This is the same idea but online. Consider using Google Hangouts. Now your potential participants just moved from local to global. If you already have connections on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Google Communities, you have a place to invite and advertise the event.

7. Twitter Chat / TweetUp

Move to Twitter and we call it a TweetUp or a Twitter Chat. There are hundreds of active Twitter chats. Some meet weekly, while others are less frequent. The idea is the same. Everyone gathers at a scheduled day and time. There is a constant broad theme (EdTech, Principals, Bloggers, etc.) and each meetup has a more specific topic or theme. There is typically one or more moderators who Tweet questions and others reply to them. You can promote your Twitter Chat on one of the many Twitter Chat listings like ChatSalad or TweetReports.

8. Virtual Book Group/Club

I love book clubs. I’ve only been a part of a few, but there is something about gathering once a month to talk about a shared reading. I love the conversation, the shared insights, the different perspective brought by various participants, and the sense of connection that comes from something as simple as meeting to talk about ideas and a good book. Chance are that you are already doing some reading for professional development, so why not invite others to gather and talk about it. You can post a list of books, and then schedule a time for a Google Hangout or other space to talk about what you are learning and thinking. And in the virtual world, you might even be able to get the author to join at some point for a little Q&A.

9. Hangout Interviews

Part of my profressional development in the digital age comes from reaching out to people who are doing great work, writing great books and articles, designing promising products and services, and being different makers in their communities and beyond. Essentially, I visit with them, interview them, and learn from them. Sometimes it happens in person. Other times it is via phone or using one of a dozen digital communication or social media tools. Sometimes it is lengthy. Other times it is short, even just a quick interaction on Twitter. I learn so much from these connections. Why not invite others into the fun by asking people of interest to be interviewed by you in a Google Hangout? You can live stream it and have an archived version to share.

10. Virtual “Show and Tell” and “How to…” Events

Show and Tell may have started in kindergarten, but it is powerful teaching and learning approach for any age or audience. These are sessions where you or another person simply explain what you did and how you did it. Keep it focused on something that you (or another) actually did in the real world, each step in the process, what worked, what didn’t, what you would do the same if you could do it again, and what you would do differently. People love learning from others who didn’t just learn about it in the abstract but have real-world experience. It can help us reach that place where we think it is actually possible for us to do something similar. It can motivate, inspire, and inform. When inviting others to share their story, this can really just be another form of an interview. You could do it using any number of online communication tools, but remember to keep it open. Your goal is to invite others to participate and learn from it as well. It can be done in real-time using something like Google Hangouts, nearly now time using Twitter, or you could experiment with some other format that extends the conversation over days or weeks.

Your Turn

There are so many possibilities to learn,  grow and connect in the digital world. Along the way, you can also help others do the same. The ten ideas above should give you plenty of possibilities. Some of them are ideas that you can start and host today, while others take more planning. While some still think of the web as a massive collection of content and a place to get, the real magic happens when you embrace a give, receive and collaborate mentality. What do you want or need to learn? How can you invite others into that learning?