Serendipitous Learning on Twitter


[Maha Bali is Associate Professor of Practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. Her primary role is a faculty developer but she also teaches educational game design to undergrads and ed tech to in-service teachers. She is a co-facilitator of and columnist at Hybrid Pedagogy. She blogs at and tweets @bali_maha.–@JBJ

I really appreciated this recent Chronicle Conversation post by Thomas Fisher in which he recounts his experiment of taking students outside the classroom to learn in different spaces that students chose themselves. It makes complete sense for an architecture class, but it also makes sense for other disciplines, and others have done it (see here and here).

Fisher suggests that one of the interesting side-effects of what he did was serendipitous learning by students not in his class who overheard and audited some of their conversations. He suggests his experiment “offers experiences not replicable in the online world.”

Who says you can’t learn serendipitously online? Who says online is not also a “space” or a set of intersecting spaces between the virtual and the physical?

For me, this is exactly what social media, especially Twitter, is all about.

Serendipitous Learning

This happens on Twitter all the time. Some examples?

  • I look at my Twitter feed and find a group of people I follow using a hashtag I’ve never seen before. It turns out there is either a new MOOC they’re participating in, a conference they’re live-tweeting about, or a Twitter chat going on. I can lurk, or I can even jump in and participate. I might fully engage with the chat or hashtag. I might meet some new people along the way.
  • I find a tweet in my notifications. Someone has tagged me into a conversation they’re having with someone else and I can choose to join in
  • I’m not even looking at my Twitter feed but I am looking at a particular hashtag of interest; someone has linked to a blogpost. I go to the blogpost, which has a link to another blogpost, where there is an interesting string of comments and… I’ve learned serendipitously. It was not my plan to follow that path, but hyperlinks made it possible

Some Things I Have Learned Serendipitously on Twitter…

  • I have learned to mentor myself by observing peers and more experienced others in their interactions and connecting with them. This is sometimes intentional, as in I seek particular people, but it is also very often serendipitous, as in I encounter them unexpectedly, without preplanning
  • I have stumbled upon communities of people who use hashtags I had never heard of but later became important ones that I use myself
  • I have collaborated with others I have never met to produce works of beauty, like this song and this zeega and this #rhizo15 recipe for open learning
  • I have also learned to be careful about which hashtags I use. I once used the #ineeddiversegames hashtag without realizing the depth of the whole #gamergate controversy behind it and received some borderline aggressive responses
  • I have learned that the more I share of myself, my own learning, the more I benefit others and develop networks and communities of people with similar interests, all of which enhances my opportunities for further serendipitous learning

Do you have strategies for creating serendipity on social media? Please share in comments!

Photo Finding Things to Chew” by Flickr user Andrew / Creative Commons licensed BY-ND-2.0

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