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We’re social creatures. All of us seek some form of social interaction, and we engage with each other—with some more than others. In learning and development (L&D), social learning goes even farther than simply connecting with other people.
Curious? This article will answer your questions about social learning. Plus, it’ll reveal some hacks that we use to implement eLearning programs.
What Is Social Learning?
Social learning adds a social element to the learning process. To understand the benefit, we need to dig into social learning theory.
Psychologist Albert Bandura proposed the theory in 1977. Bandura drew attention to the importance of observing others in order to learn. According to his theory, others’ behaviors, values, beliefs, and attitudes influence learning, and we learn by example. We follow the lead of role models we observe around us.
Nevertheless, there’s a catch: we tend only to adopt the behaviors that society deems appropriate. That’s because we desire society’s approval of our behaviors. So, in Bandura’s theory, learning is social from two perspectives: we learn by observing others and mimic what society finds acceptable.
Bandura doesn’t discard the influence our minds have in the social learning process. In his theory, the learner doesn’t simply observe and reproduce. They analyze and consider the consequences of others’ behaviors first.
We can summarize the social learning theory like this:
- Attention. We learn best when the lesson grabs our attention, keeping us focused on it. For instance, new topics or different perspectives on a topic are easier to focus on because they grab our attention.
- Retention. We only learn if the lesson remains in our memory over time so we remember it later. Take the example of sales personnel. They must recall the sales emailing techniques they learned to apply them later when outreaching to prospects.
- Reproduction. We can only reproduce the behaviors learned if it is possible to do so—whether that means having the physical ability to do so or the tools required. (.
- Motivation. We tend to adopt what we learned if we consider that the reward outweighs the costs. And we consider that’s the case when someone else has received a reward for the same behaviors that we’re learning.
If you can put this theory into practice, your employees will learn skills and knowledge in social contexts. Here are some examples of straightforward social learning that you can easily implement by yourself:
- Sharing a training video on YouTube
- Sharing a link to an article, lesson, video, or podcast
- Messaging a reminder to read an article, complete a lesson, watch a video, or listen to a podcast
Now that you know what social learning is, you’re ready to understand better why it matters.
What Are the Benefits of Social Learning?
Learning socially improves knowledge absorption and retention and increases learner engagement. It’s effective because it uses the social tools your employees probably already use in their spare time.
With social sharing tools, you promote a less formal learning environment. It’s more convenient and promotes perpetual learning rather than training sessions with a scheduled time and date.
Also, social learning seems unobtrusive to your employees, so they feel less like training is an obligation. On top of that, the learner owns the learning path, giving them a sense of freedom and increasing their learning appetite.
Social interaction among employees plus data accessibility stops data silos fast—and technology speeds up the process. Knowledge sharing between departments is one of the consequences of that social interaction. Then, when the silos fall, your employees will understand the business and their job better, and innovation will multiply.
In-house social learning—which you can implement at your company—will do the following:
- Encourage employee interaction, which will boost their enthusiasm, confidence, and loyalty at work
- Increase knowledge sharing—and sharing will trigger more sharing and even more learning
- Bring your employees together through collaboration
- Allow access to expert in-house knowledge when your employees need it
- Retain talent by having employees teaching each other and feeling happy at and attached to your company
- Make onboarding faster and easier as new hires interact and connect more quickly with their colleagues and experts
- Create a workforce engaged with its training because it informally and actively trains its colleagues
- Give your less extroverted employees a (virtual) channel to share their knowledge while remaining in their comfort zone
Social learning also extends the reach of a training program. It’s a great option to broaden a training audience beyond your company’s borders. It’s also an opportunity for your employees to share information and learn from each other. Let’s explore the tools that you can use for social learning.
Social Learning Tools
When learning socially, your reach is only as good as the tools you use. Luckily, there’s a good chance your learners already use some of the most effective tools.
Facebook, Twitter, and instant messaging applications such as Slack can make learning a more social experience. YouTube and LinkedIn are other excellent social learning tools.
Any place that your employees can use to ask questions within the organization is a social learning tool. For instance, Stack Overflow channels for engineering teams are social learning tools. You can also create your own private Subreddit. Some of these tools allow users to rate answers, which gives credit to the replier and the answer itself.
Corporate wikis —like the ones you can build on Confluence, for instance—are another great example of social learning tools. These are particularly useful for new hires or employees who switch departments. You must establish roles to maintain the wikis and make sure they’re relevant and accurate. It’s also crucial that each wiki is a single source of truth within its topic and your organization.
So far, you know what social learning is, why it’s important, and the tools you can use to implement it. The next step is for you to discover how those tools can support eLearning.
The Special Case of Social Media eLearning
According to the Pew Research Center’s Social Media Fact Sheet, 72% of U.S. adults use social media. We live in a social world and use social media networks constantly. For instance, we use Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to keep in touch and stay on top of the news. But how can you use these networks for eLearning?
A special kind of social learning is social media eLearning. If you do any of the things below, you’re already using social media for eLearning.
- Watching an informational video posted by someone on Facebook
- Using a Twitter hashtag to read technology news
Social media eLearning isn’t a full alternative to traditional L&D. However, it acts as a supplement for a social and tech-savvy workforce that’s eager to share knowledge. When learners share their achievements on social media networks, other learners follow the lead and start sharing, thus promoting learning.
Nevertheless, you should do a few things to nourish the social sharing practice across your company. Check them out below.
Five Tips to Implement Social Elearning
Your employees might have the tools to learn socially, but you should be the engine behind the structure. Here’s how:
If your organization has a strong web and social presence, social learning should be a relatively easy mission. On the other hand, if that’s not the case, you might experience a little resistance from leadership. They might perceive social learning as too informal and low-quality, therefore unprofessional. The thing is: without support from your managers and executives, the implementation of social eLearning won’t work.
Mention companies that incorporated social learning into their L&D strategy with great success. For instance, IBM has a data science training program that includes a Slack channel and multiple forums. This keeps learners engaged and prevents dropout. Nationwide Insurance is another champion of social learning—corporate social networking specifically. They built an enterprise-wide social platform based on SharePoint and Yammer. Technology helped their employees:
- Connect with each other
- Get help and ask questions about the business or projects
- Share ideas, feedback, content, documents, videos, and other artifacts
Implement a few social learning actions simultaneously—share a weekly training video or article, for instance. By doing it gradually, you’ll help your organization understand the importance of social learning.
Your junior employees or employees switching careers can expand their knowledge by asking questions of others. So, facilitate the means for your senior team members, subject matter experts, and other role models to share:
- Performance stories
- Lessons learned
- Solutions to problems they solved
Pay attention to the activity of your employees on social eLearning channels. Then, recognize those who share their knowledge and expert insights with their colleagues. Gamification can help you with that. If you incentivize your best contributors’ sharing practice can:
- Help your company grow
- Develop the skills of your workforce
- Improve the performance of your business
The Best of Social Learning Is Yet to Come
The contribution of social media to eLearning is highly positive and adjusted to current times. And it isn’t over!
While their relationship status might still be complicated, the future looks very promising. Many organizations no longer perceive social learning as ineffective in the workplace.
Additionally, technological innovation doesn’t sleep and strengthens the bond between eLearning and social sharing. Today, social learning technologies support various core enterprise processes: recruiting, onboarding, and L&D.
We’re excited about helping you incorporate social learning into your L&D strategy! Let’s have a chat about it.