Why you need social learning in your L&D strategy

Social learning is gaining popularity in the Learning & Development field. Strategies enabling and encouraging continuous learning and skills-development become increasingly common as more and more companies realize the value of this learning method for various types of corporate training. In this blog post I share some ways for you to use it in your L&D strategy.

Agnes Haverling

A vital part of supporting and encouraging learning is to utilize the fact that we humans are intrinsically social beings. We like to learn with, and from each other. This just so happens to be the essence of social learning. So what does it really mean, and what can it do for you and your organization? I will elaborate on the concept of social learning and share some advantages it could bring. My hope is that it will show you just how this type of learning can be applied in your L&D strategy and what positive results await you.

So, what is social learning and why is it relevant in a corporate context?

The essence of social learning lies in learning experiences shared with other individuals in various different contexts. It is a fundamental way to learn that has been around since the dawn of mankind. It's really a wonder that it has taken us this long to start giving it the time of day in corporate training and skills development.

As children, we learn through observation and interaction with people close to us. Growing up we increase the interaction and cultivate our learning through collaboration in group assignments at school, introducing concepts like team communication and delegation. As we enter adulthood and work we continue to learn through similar social processes. Through interaction with, and observation of colleagues and leaders in different social contexts at work. This could be a quick discussion by the watercooler, meetings, opr even large summits with great variety in mood, levels of information, decision making and social pressure. In addition to this, we have many channels for workrelated information like email, chat, videoconferences, and the old phone call. We might even throw some social media outlets into the mix.

The bottom line here is that we learn continuously through social interactions at work. If you manage to seize this learning it could give you vital insight in how individuals learn in your organization. Insight that you could utilize to encourage informal learning as well as more structured corporate training efforts.

Some great advantages of social learning for organizations

The positive effects of social learning are directly related to how we learn. As we know, learning takes place continuously, in more or less organized forms. You might have heard of the 70:20:10 framework for learning and development. A rather roughly cut, but valuable model developed in the 1980's by Morgan McCall and The Center for Creative Leadership. It's based on McCalls research findings stating that the collected knowledge of successful business leaders could be split into the following percentages based on how they had accumulated skills and knowledge:

70% learn and develop through experience.

20% learn and develop through social interaction.

10% learn and develop through structured courses and programs.

This suggests that social learning is a vital aspect to consider when creating effective corporate training that really provide value and lasting knowledge for individuals to carry with themself and build upon through life.

Research shows that collaboration makes for better learning with additional benefits for the individual, team, and organization as a whole. So it is hardly surprising to see social learning getting more attention in L&D. By now there is a plentitude of digital platforms and tools where teams and individual team-members can share knowledge and experiences, collaborate and coach each other through what we call peer-to-peer learning. In this way all participants enter the role of knowledge sharer as well as learner in an equal way.

If you manage to successfully integrate social learning in your Learning & Development strategy, you lay the foundation for the following positive effects:

  • Engaging learning for your employees. Social learning is an appealing learning method with proven efficiency. It focuses on the learner and aligns with the way we humans prefer to learn, and has been learning throughout our lives.
  • Motivated Millennials. A generation often mentioned as tech savvy and driven, with high demands of flexibility, career development and learning at work that will greatly appreciate social learning at the workplace. In this way efforts to cultivate a culture of social learning could become a valuable asset in employer branding activities to attract millennial talent.
  • Social learning provides value for both the person sharing knowledge and the one learning something new. Social learning not only provides value for the person learning something new. The person or team that is sharing knowledge will get further insights and learn from the process as well.
  • Social learning creates a chain of positive effects. With social learning as default, you lay the foundation of a learning culture in which everyone share knowledge and experiences through the entire organization. Something that in turn will support more formal training activities.

Considerations for the road ahead

  • Social learning builds engagement and cultivates a culture of knowledge sharing with potential to highlight and spread tacit knowledge all through the organisation.
  • It introduces an approach of self-organizing and collaboration.
  • As well as ignites a sense of curiosity you could utilize in support of other educational activities.

Encouraging collaboration and knowledge sharing amongst teams and individuals might be the most important aspect for successful use of social learning. A culture of openness and curiosity with easy access to arenas for sharing is an absolute necessity to truly reap the benefits.

Conflict and vagueness in the organisation could easily become a major hindrance and make employees wary of vocalizing needs of skills development or otherwise reach out for help. They might even hesitate to share knowledge in fear of coming across sub-par. So make sure to review your organizational culture, take a closer look at what arenas for knowledge sharing and collaboration you already have in place, and what needs adding to. This encompasses digital tools for learning and communication as well as physical and digital spaces for socializing and sharing experiences.

Other aspects to consider:

  • How do you share valuable information and new experiences between colleagues, teams and different levels of the organization?
  • What processes do you have in place for handing over knowledge from a coworker that has decided to leave the organization?
  • Do you have tools in place to facilitate knowledge sharing in the organization?
  • What do you currently do to encourage knowledge sharing?

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We will happily show you how to use Loops for social learning!

Agnes Haverling, fil. kand. i Digital media & Pedagogik och skriver om produktivitet, organisatoriskt lärande och metodik.


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