Social learning – it’s a hot topic today. If you’ve spent any time dealing with learning management systems or L&D in general within your business, then you’ve at least heard of it. However, there’s a good chance that you’re not sure just what its impact might be on your team. Below, we’ll explore what you need to know.
What Is Social Learning?
First, let’s define social learning. What does that phrase even mean? It’s nothing new. All learning was once social. Before they enter school, children still learn this way. And, once, it was the only way to learn. Social learning means learning from someone else. Think of hunter-gatherers learning how to weave baskets from their elders. Think of your child learning how to hold a crayon from you. These are both examples of social learning, but it goes much deeper.
How Does Social Learning Work within a Business?
Basket-weaving and coloring are probably not going to be everyday activities within your business, so how does social learning apply within your organization? It takes many forms that you might not consider. Here are a few examples:
- Learning through a coworker’s blog
- Learning from an employee-compiled knowledge base
- Learning from subject-matter expert videos or articles
- Learning from discussion forums
- Learning through mentorship programs
That’s great, of course, but what benefits does social learning bring to the table? How does it impact your team? It does so in many, many ways.
The Impact of Social Learning
Social learning’s impact is vast, and it comes in myriad forms. Below, we’ll touch on some of the most important for you to know.
Responsibility for Learning
One of the most important benefits of social learning is that your employees can take responsibility for their learning. This is at odds with the conventional model of L&D where you’re required to create modules within a learning management system. There are no tests or quizzes here, and no progress bars to monitor.
Instead, employees can learn at their own pace, when it fits their schedule, and often “just in time.” Rather than taking time away from their regular duties to complete computer-based coursework or to attend an in-person seminar or class, employees interact with informal learning sources, build their knowledge, and improve their performance on their own, without additional costs or time constraints.
Continuing education, or CE, was once only required for specific professions. For instance, medical professionals at all levels are required to complete so many hours of CE per year to maintain their credentials. That concept has trickled down to other positions, and today, employers want their team members to learn throughout their careers. There is no “endpoint” when it comes to education. Rather, companies want employees to become lifelong learners and strive to provide the tools to help them achieve that.
Social learning provides powerful tools that support continuous learning throughout a career. And, because these are informal sources that don’t require an interruption of the employee’s regular duties, education can take place at an accelerated pace that matches the needs of modern business. Imagine the impact on a company if an employee had to sit through two hours of training every single week.
With social learning, that’s not a problem. Social learning allows employees to spend just as much time as necessary to learn the material and no more. It can be learned at any point in their schedule.
Collaboration is a vital component of any business. Employees need to be able to collaborate. Teams must collaborate. Departments must collaborate. Execs and other leaders must collaborate. However, creating a culture in which collaboration is the norm can be quite challenging. Social learning can help.
As naturally social beings, humans need to feel like they’re part of a group. Social learning ensures that they can enjoy support from others while providing support themselves, creating a cohesive group that is larger than the sum of its parts. There’s also the fact that people who feel supported and part of a group are more likely to support others and help them learn, thus improving the situation for everyone.
Creating an Engaged Workforce
How engaged are your team members? The chances are good that their engagement level could be better; without engagement, productivity declines. That costs your business time and money. Without engagement, employees jump ship, looking for brighter futures. Without engagement, your profitability suffers.
Social learning supports engagement and helps create a more productive, more engaged, happier workforce. When employees feel like they are a valued part of something bigger than themselves, talent retention improves, profitability rises, and performance increases.
So, how do you go about building social learning into your workplace?
Implementing Social Learning
Implementing social learning in your business can be quite challenging. Part of that is the informal nature of the learning – it’s not sponsored by the business. It’s created by employees for employees. The answer here is to create an environment that supports and encourages social learning.
For instance, with the right learning management system, you can create a broad range of elements designed to encourage social learning. These can include things like message boards and digital forums, chat applications, and even digital mentorship spaces. The point is to create digital areas where employees can come together and share the knowledge they have learned with one another.
Social learning happens all the time, even if you have no formal framework in place. However, you must create a culture of learning and an environment that encourages and supports social learning in a variety of ways. Employee blogs, forums, and message boards, mentorship opportunities – these are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. With the right steps, the right planning, and the right LMS, you can design a learning strategy and provide the digital spaces necessary to help your team feel like they’re part of something larger than themselves.