What is Social Learning?

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Jean-Pierre Fallou

Jean-Pierre Fallou

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What is Social Learning?

Why Is It So Important for Corporate Learning & Development?

Social learning is quickly becoming an increasingly hot topic for corporate learning & development departments as more businesses look to leverage the knowledge of their subject matter experts across their entire organization. According to a report from Bersin by Deloitte, enterprises with at least 10,000 employees spent three times more on social tools than they had in the previous two years. And according to a report from the Brandon Hall Group, 73% of surveyed organizations expect to increase their focus on social learning over the next year.

But what is the definition of social learning? And why is it gaining such importance in the enterprise?

What is Social Learning?

Social learning isn’t a new way of learning. In fact, social and collaborative learning may be one of humankind’s oldest forms of learning. At its essence, social learning is the continuous process of learning from other people. We are learning socially when we observe other people, ask questions, and share knowledge resources.

However, in recent years, the definition of social learning has been refined for its application in the workplace. In a business learning context, social learning is defined by the informal ways that we learn from our colleagues, particularly through social technologies like blogs, wikis, discussion forums, subject-matter directories, and videos. Businesses that support social learning have environments that foster conversation and collaboration between learners across the organization.

The Benefits of Social Learning in the Workplace

As we have seen over the last few months, businesses are looking for new ways to improve upon the skills and agility of their workforce while they work from home.

The main benefit of supporting a social learning environment in the workplace is that it enables employees to take responsibility for their own personal learning. Typically, employee training occurs through formal, instructor-led channels during prescribed training events. Many times, employees must interrupt their regular duties in order to attend training sessions in a physical location outside of the office — often incurring additional costs for travel and lodging. And simply attending a training session doesn’t guarantee that the learners will retain everything that is taught. A study by Rusted and Coltheart showed that just 30 minutes after finishing a training session, people will remember only 58% of the material taught — and only retain 35% of the material 7 days later. 

In contrast, social learning is done on a just-in-time basis. Whether it’s by using discussion forums, searching wikis, or simply by tapping the shoulder of the person next to them, social learners leverage the expertise around them on an on-demand basis to get exactly the information they need at the point that they need it. In turn, the learner can then quickly apply that information to complete a task or achieve a goal.

Social learning also supports continuous training. In recent years, companies have been looking for tools that can help make learning more continuous throughout an employee’s career. According to the Brandon Hall report, more than 60% of companies wanted their employees to interact with learning resources on a daily or weekly basis — not quite a sustainable request, particularly when event-driven formal training sessions can often last an hour or more. Under social learning, employees only spend enough time to learn exactly what they need, with minimal interruption to their daily workflow.

Finally, social learning enhances corporate culture and fosters workplace collaboration. Humans are naturally social beings who need to feel part of a group. Learners that are able to support and be supported by other learners

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