blogs, time management

Professional learning goals and blog reading: a framework

12 Comments 06 January 2011

At the end of 2010, I thought I’d put together a blog post of the ten blogs to recommend to my readers for 2011. I tweeted out that I was looking for ideas and recommendations. Social Butterfly tweeted back with a provocative question:

Then the idea for this blog post took another turn, as I began to think about why I read blogs. And why others read professional blogs. I mentioned in the comments to Social Butterfly’s blog post Can You Name Two Blogs That Get You To Think? that her tweet to me suggested an important lens through which I should consider the professional blogs that I read.  Beth Kanter picked up on Social Butterfly’s blog post and wrote an excellent post about networked professional learning systems.

In an attempt to codify why I read professional blogs, I created a paradigm for choosing which blogs to read. As a starting point, I had to clarify my professional learning goals for reading blogs.  Those goals are: focused learning about a specific topic, staying abreast of news in my field, developing new ideas and challenging old ways of thinking, and being part of my professional community. The professional learning goals are represented in the colorful nodes below. Connected to each node is a list of what types of blogs I read or connect with to meet those learning goals.

There is obviously a connection between staying abreast of professional news, developing new ideas, and challenging old ways of thinking. I find that a combination of reading news blogs, bloggers in my field and bloggers outside of my field produces new ideas. Commenting on other blogs can also create a conversation that pushes one’s own thinking as well (e.g. the comment exchanges that produced the idea for this blog post).

I try to limit the number of blogs that I read to no more than 30.  I select blogs that meet the goal of staying abreast of professional news if they offer consistent insight and education about an area I want to learn about. If I want to dive deeply into a niche (such as social gaming, mobile fundraising, etc.) then I’ll add up to four new bloggers from that field, until I’ve gotten the information that I need and/or decided to add one of them to my regular blog reading list. “Blog creep,” because adding new blogs to my RSS reader is so easy, is a real issue with which I regularly struggle.

Beth mentions in the her blog post that she has a blog reader folder called “Circle of the Wise” for her must-read blogs. I have a similar folder I call “read now.” When I focus on culling the number of blogs that I read, I zero in on the “read now” folder and spend my time thinking about the value that I get from the blogs in that folder. That folder has held, at times, from five to 12 blogs. There’s no reason it can’t hold more, other than the fact that I’m committed to reading the blogs in that folder regularly.

Being part of a professional community is an important a reason for reading blogs as well. As you comment on a blog regularly, the blogger does tend to notice you and begin to consider you part of his/her blog community. As a consultant and a professional in the field of social media, I value the connections that I create with other bloggers through blog commenting. I rely on this community for professional knowledge, and support when needed. I also find that blog relationships are supported and strengthened significantly by connections on other social platforms such as Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, Flickr, etc.  Lastly, bloggers tend to be transactional; when you comment on their blogs regularly, they will often begin to pay attention to your blog. (Anecdotally, I found that when I stopped commenting on other blogs for a while, the comments on my own blog began to drop off. )

I fully anticipate that the framework that I’ve created will change over time, and I hope it does as my professional goals for reading blogs change. Now I’d like to know: what are the reasons that you read professional blogs?

  • Ted

    Does spell check have a place in “profesional” blogs?


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Good catch, and thanks. Clearly spell check does NOT check titles. Though the title is correctly spelled, I will sadly always remember that mistake by the URL. Clearly, the lesson is that spell check does NOT check blog titles! Thanks again for letting me know.


    Ilene Rosenblum Reply:

    You should be able to edit the URL in WordPress, but by now you’ll risk losing links.
    I think you forgot something else – what about the fun? I read blogs that are useful, yes. But the people who are good writers in addition to providing great content get my attention the most!


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  • Anonymous

    My initial reason for reading professional blogs was to absorb as much knowledge as I could in my industry. Since my career goals are becoming more focused, I’m focusing my reading and learning as well, though I still try to stay on top of general industry trends.


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    I also began reading a wide breadth of blogs when I first started thinking about social media, and I’ve become more focused on what I want to read as well. And speaking of community, your comment reminds me that the people who post on my blog regularly are ones that I consider part of my professional community as well.


  • I read the blogs I read because of the thought leadership of their authors and the reliably good content. I read blogs on behalf of my clients as well, so that I can better understand their issues and potential outreach. I’ve also discovered so many great new ones through trusted connections on Twitter etc – and many are archived for that elusive “rainy day”.


  • Beth Kanter

    I began with a reader of over 100 and the NpTECH tag. But now I read less because there is a lot that comes my way through other sources — and there are times when I’m really busy and don’t get to follow. I like how limiting yourself poses some good design choices.


  • Melinda Lewis

    This is a good way to start the new year, Debra–with some focused reflection on what it is that I want to get out of any activity, not just blog reading. I think that your diagram is a helpful way of thinking about what professional blogs mean to me, and why I get frustrated when I feel that I can’t keep up with even those that I value most. I would say, in response to the tweet that prompted your post initially, that, for me, it’s just more practical, really, to focus on people who I’ve found, over time, to offer commentary that enriches my work. I wish I could say that I seek out conversations elsewhere on a regular basis, but, at this point, I begin with those who have become sort of “trusted advisors”, trying to make sure that there’s intentional diversity of thought and “niche” represented there.


  • Debra – Thanks for this post. It comes at a timely point for me as I am looking to manage what I can realistically read as the number of blogs keeps expanding. In general I look for authors who offer consistent insight (in a wide range of topics I follow for my own professional learning goals) and/or who have a community of readers where there is almost always a good discussion around the issue presented with the author participating (like you!). But even with this framework, I find that there is still way more that I would like to read than I can possibly stay on top of. I like the idea some have of creating a “Must Read” type of list and then a more extended blogroll that one dips in and out of periodically. Thanks as always for stimulating my thinking!


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Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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