As CPAs, you learn for a living. Your license depends on it.

But even you have to admit that our ability to learn — to continuously learn — has never been more important.

We’ve spent a lot of time here talking about that — about the fact that the most important skill we’ll possess going forward is the ability to learn new skills.

We even have a bunch of fancy new tools to help us on our way. They’re called “personal learning networks,” and they’re the latest in buzz-worthy trends designed to help us overcome near-constant change and complexity.

Here’s the truth about personal learning networks, though: They’re as old as the hills. Personal learning networks are nothing more than the people and resources from whom we learn. They’ve been part of the learning process since Day 1.

Here’s what IS new: Today, we have access to incredibly powerful tools (hello, social media!) that put us in touch with more people and resources than ever. That increases our ability to learn exponentially.

The question, then, is this: How do we build a modern personal learning network?

In my mind, the answer boils down to three steps:

1. Follow the right people
Simply put, the right people are folks who add value to your life — thought leaders, experts in your field, industry journalists, those who share your interests and backgrounds. You’ll know them when you see them. Follow them all.

Here’s a little secret: Every entity that regulates the CPA profession is on Twitter. So is every publication that covers the profession. Find them. Follow them. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn — and how quickly you’ll learn it.

And once you follow them, take a look at the people they follow. The odds are good that folks who add value to your life are following people who might also add value to your life. Follow their followers. Before you know it, you’ll have built an incredibly useful network.

2. Use the right tools
There are some great tools out there that will help you filter the flood of information you’re seeing these days — that will deliver only the stuff that’s valuable to you and let you ignore all of the other crap. I’m talking about tools like Twitter lists, TweetDeck, HootSuite, YouTube, LinkedIn’s groups, Evernote, Pocket, Flipboard, Zite, Feedly, GoodReads, and so many others. If you use them correctly, they’ll be time-savers, not time-wasters.

That’s the power of social media: In an era of information overload, these networks are perfect social filters. Follow the right people and you’ll get the right information.

How cool is that?

3. Take care of yourself
Wellness and education go hand in hand. Sleep and exercise are medicine for the brain. Give your brain enough of both and you will learn more than you can possibly imagine.

Arianna Huffington has written an eye-opening book called Thrive in which she talks about the business benefits of taking care of our physical selves.

For far too long, we’ve been told that to succeed in business, we need to outwork the other guy. According to Huffington, science says that’s wrong — like, 180 degrees wrong. Think about this:

  • The lost performance due to insomnia costs businesses more than $63 billion per year.
     
  • Moving — walking, running, exercising of any kind — enhances cognitive performance, from creativity to planning and scheduling, and it helps us to reconnect with our environment, ourselves, and those around us.
     
  • Then there’s the business case for meditation: “If you’re fully present on the job,” says Harvard Business School professor Bill George, “you will be more effective as a leader. You will make better decisions.”

Seriously, people, this isn’t touchy-feely stuff. This is science, and the science is clear: The more in tune we are with ourselves, the more we’ll learn and the better we’ll be at working with others. It’s that old cliché — sometimes you have to slow down to go fast.

It’s an interesting paradox when you think about it. To conquer change, we have to outlearn it. Doing that means mastering both a new set of learning tools and one of the oldest concepts in education — that physical and mental well-being go hand in hand.

One thing is certain: This ain’t your parents’ classroom. Life is our classroom.

Start studying.

Want to learn more?
I recently built a presentation about personal learning networks for the MACPA’s annual Innovation Summit and CCH’s 2014 User Conference. Check out my slides and notes below:

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