When someone barks, “Hey, this isn’t social hour!” at work, it usually means a couple of employees are taking an extended coffee break. But when it comes to learning and development, adding a social element can mean way more than talking around the water cooler. Instead, it’s a way for organizations to increase learner engagement by using the social tools they probably already check in their spare time. Social learning can extend reach and improve retention, so it’s worth the effort – and the coffee.

Tools for Social Learning

In social learning, 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: Twitter, YouTube and IM can all be excellent ways to make learning a more social experience.

By utilizing social sharing tools, you promote a less formal learning environment. Sending a link to a particularly good article, instant messaging a reminder or even uploading a quick training video to YouTube means your learners lose the stuffy attitude and adapt to learning on the fly. It’s infinitely more convenient and the best way for organizations to promote perpetual learning, rather than saving training for a set time and date.

Social Learning Attitudes for L&D

While adding social learning to your current L&D strategy makes total sense, you might experience a little push back when you suggest the approach to leadership. Attitudes and social media usage need to be in the right place to really make social eLearning a success.

Take note of your company culture: Organizations that already utilize a strong Web and social presence make social learning a no-brainer. Lessons, resources, articles and videos can simply be fed into current channels of connection. If, however, your organization is a little more resistant to integrating social sharing with work life, you may have a tougher battle ahead. You’ll first need to prove the worth of adding a social strategy to current L&D efforts to make leadership sit up, take note and implement social learning.

Presentation and Promotion

Passionate about making social learning really work in your organization? Start at the top: Detail several companies that utilize social learning to great success. IBM, for example, has a network of forums, online learning tools and branded tags that allow learners to search and share on their own time.

Nationwide Insurance is another proponent of social learning: They implement Yammer, a private micro-blogging site a la Twitter which allows employees to connect with and share material for faster, more personalized results.

By starting small and implementing a few social tools at a time – a weekly learning video or shared article, for instance – you can help your organization understand the importance of social hour as a method of informal, perpetual learning for a better-educated, better-prepared workforce.