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A Quick Guide to Social Learning

The main idea behind social learning is that we learn better together.  Let’s look at its benefits and how to incorporate social learning into digital learning programs.

We’re social animals

The term social learning theory was coined in the 1950s, but the practice has been around for far longer.  The basic idea is that we retain information better when we learn with others.  We learn a lot informally from our peers.  We observe the way others work, ask for their advice, and actively copy what they do.  Social learning represents a more efficient, effective way of learning largely because it’s the way we prefer and are adapted to learn – together, with others.

The benefits of social learning

  • Puts learners at the center: Learning with and from peers makes it more democratic and personal. You get the information you need from the people who know it best.  Learning is placed in context and within the workflow so it’s more relevant to your needs.
  • Appeals to modern learners: Social learning reflects how we look for our information today.  We use social media channels and help functions to learn what we need to know when we need to know it. It’s collaborative and is driven by our motivation to find things out for ourselves through the experience of others.
  • Flexible and informal: A key advantage of social learning is that it happens at the moment.  It’s not about waiting for a training session. It’s instantly accessible. And this informal way of learning can be used to complement formal training programs. 
  • Encourages engagement: Social learning is driven by learners’ own motivation to learn.  It’s casual and fun. Learners organize their own learning. This self-drive makes them more engaged which means they learn and perform better.
  • Promotes teamwork: Learning in a group creates a bond and trust.  These are the essential elements of teamwork.  Collaborating while learning carries over into work and helps build team spirit.
  • Sustainable: Learners choose this way of learning because it’s efficient and can be organized by themselves.  It doesn’t require a formal structure or instigation by L&D.  Social learning is sustainable because it’s more adaptable and responsive to learners’ needs.  
  • Fills gaps: Peer-to-peer learning identifies and addresses skills gaps.  Sharing information within a group raises the skills base and helps standardize best practices.  It levels up the knowledge base and quickly and efficiently fills skills gaps.
  • Inclusive: Social learning encourages active participation and makes sure no one gets left behind.  Social learning practice includes everyone in the team as they learn (and work) together.
  • Improves employee retention: Learning as part of a group improves morale.  It helps support individual development and general well-being.  When people feel their needs are being met and that their colleagues are there for them, they’re more likely to stay.
  • Enhances communication: The exchange of ideas and information within a team improves communication.  Social learning provides additional, informal channels by which information can flow.  And the absence of a hierarchy means that communication is two-way and results in constructive dialog instead of unilateral directives.  

5 ways to enable social learning

  1. Social media spaces: Create a social media space for your teams to upload learning content such as short videos or audio recordings, screen captures, and links to recommended sites. They can also use the space to post questions and responses, contribute to a thread in discussion group threads or take part in polls.  This way knowledge expands and is instantly shared.
  2. Employee-generated content: Encourage employees to capture and share information and tips by creating their own digital content.  This might be a presentation in a video, an audio file recorded on the phone, or a checklist they’ve created in a document.  These pieces of microlearning content can then be uploaded to a shared space for a wider audience.  
  3. Collaborative apps: Use apps like Slack and Trello to facilitate teamworking and team learning.  Create dedicated channels for specific projects and for idea sharing and collaboration.  Document sharing apps like SharePoint or Google allow teams to work on documents together in real-time.
  4. Gamification: Introduce game elements into your formal digital learning programs including challenges, interactive role plays, and quizzes.  Use analytics tools to record scores and milestones.  Stimulate competition within a group by creating leaderboards.  Create online events where teams compete against each other.  Or invent your own game set in the work environment.
  5. LXPs: These learning platforms provide an arena for learning and sharing information.  LXPs focus on the experience of learning for groups of learners.  They can be used to support social learning practices and ensure informal learning is captured, curated, and delivered to a wider audience.

We practice social learning because it works: in our lives and at work.  Let’s make it part of L&D.

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