Our Founding Fathers Rocked Their Personal Learning Networks.

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson

I think the success of our founding fathers was based largely on the personal learning network they each created. In a previous post, I talked about the volume of information leaders like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin both consumed and created. Jefferson had donated over 6,400 books to the newly formed Library of Congress, John Adams amassed a library of over 2,700 books, and Franklin was so passionate about reading and learning that he had a hand in developing the public library system.

These gentlemen were prolific writers and regularly created content for the benefit of others. I can easily imagine that Franklin would have been a world class blogger and Twitter user. Franklin wrote on virtually everything from how to create pro/con lists as a decision making tool to chess. These leaders were eager to learn and more importantly share what they learned with others. According to Jefferson Looney, Jefferson wrote approximately 19, 000 letters and had over 21,000 letters written to him.  For 43 years, he wrote at least one letter a day for two out of three days. Here I am finding it challenging to find topics to blog about.  Franklin wrote a newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, and contributed to many other papers. John Adams documented his learning and journeys with a diary or journal. According to the Massachusetts Historical Society, Adams wrote 51 journal volumes from 1753 to 1804.

I am not the only one who has realized that our founding fathers were personal learning network rockstars. Jean McCormick envisioned in her blog that Jefferson would have been cataloging his finds on a myriad of topics in Pinterest. She thought Franklin would be regularly Tweeting inspirational quotes and Adams would be leveraging LinkedIn. Jonathan Lyons wrote that Franklin believed in sharing knowledge and would probably use social media to do so. In reference to Franklin, Lyons noted…

His quest for useful knowledge and self-improvement flourished within the precincts of the study circle and subscription library, amid the mysteries of the local Masonic lodge, and inside the collegiality of the coffee klatsch, the tavern gathering, and the drinking club.

 Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin were always seeking out others in order to share knowledge. They did this in tavern gatherings as well as through the written word. Additionally, they were all intensely curious and voracious readers. We need to be a lot more like these great leaders. Here are my suggestions for getting started:

  1. Develop a regular reading habit. Continuously seek out new knowledge in the form of books, blogs, and articles. As I wrote in a previous post, CEOs are reading 4-6 books per month, and if you read at least 7 business books per year you could earn 230% more.  There are always fresh ideas found in blog posts.
  2. Meet with others. Make time to meet with others at conferences, workshops, or at the local bar to discuss ideas and share knowledge.
  3. Leverage technology to facilitate learning. Use RSS feeds, lists, hashtags, and searches to help filter and organize your incoming streams of information from Twitter, blogs, Pinterest, etc. Use social bookmarking tools like Diigo to collect, tag, and organize the interesting articles you find on the Internet.
  4. Share what you learn. Take time to share what you learn with others through presentations, blogs, or discussion. It will help to reinforce what you are learning.
  5. Learn how to learn. To be a lifelong learner, you must learn how to learn. This is different from education where someone else sets out your learning tasks. As a lifelong learner, you must learn how to define your own learning.

Getting back to these founding fathers, they were able to make a difference in the lives of others because what they learned, shared, and applied. What difference will you make based on what you learn?

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