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Aug 03, 2017 Katelind Hays

Q&A with an Expert: What’s the Deal with Social Learning?

Social Learning FAQs

As more and more training functions move to a more modern blended design, we’re integrating more models into a single program. Social learning, the process of learning from peers, is a particularly valuable option. By encouraging learners to collaborate and connect, we honor the way people have always learned: from one another. 

Despite the value of social learning, there’s a stigma. How do you measure results of this format, and other informal learning treatments? How do we make sure learners share accurate information?

To help you get buy-in from stakeholders, learners, and your L&D peers alike, Jennifer Hofmann answered some of the most common social learning questions.

What is the role of the facilitator during social learning exercises?

“It’s truly facilitating a conversation. Now of course, we’ll have to stop and start. We’ll have to deliver five minutes of content and then allow conversation to go on. Our job within the context of the virtual classroom, and other formal training events, is to recognize when the chat or dialog is adding value, and when we should shut it down because it’s not adding value to our end goal anymore. Because in a formal training program, there’s an end goal we need to achieve. Add in the learning communities and the communities of practice for post-event, ongoing learning, and then the facilitator is there to make sure that the learners understand how to converse, not just answer particular questions.“

Social learning seems to be more focused on Communities of Learning, instead of training and adult learning. How do we manage that?

“Informal learning is a critical piece of adult learning, and we have to remember that social learning is not formal. Social learning is not something that’s easy to evaluate and it’s not something we can force. We want to show that people can be interested and can be engaged through these different mediums. And by teaching them how to do it in a smaller way within modern blended learning sessions (in person or in the virtual classroom), I think we’re also teaching people how to work, because work today is all about collaboration. Collaboration is a competency of the modern workplace.”

The biggest challenge we find in our organization is the quality of the content in social learning – too often incorrect or partially correct information is provided. What should we do to fix it?

“Often that happens when we’re forcing people to be social – forcing that content because people need to post something, so they post the first thing they think of. It also happens when learners just want their voice heard. We need to learn how to manage that, as well. That’s what a moderator or facilitator can do - not mark somebody wrong, but send them in the right direction. Moderators can address incorrect information in a way that provides accurate information, and takes advantage of a learning moment.”

Does social learning have to involve digital resources?

“Not at all! Social learning is that watercooler-type of learning. It could be people getting together during a coffee break, or during a collaborative moment in training. For example, I belong to a book club. Not only do we discuss what we’re reading, but also other parts of our lives. It can be people getting together and digging deeper in those types of situations, as well.”

We’ve built social communities for learning in the past and they didn’t work. What happened?

“That’s a big question: 'If you build it, will they come?' Just because we create a chat activity or a community of learning, doesn’t mean that people will participate. You can’t fake community, you can’t force it, either. Community is something that starts to grow and we need to moderate often to get it started and then it starts to build on its own. You also have to provide authentic social learning opportunities, and model constructive use of these spaces and exercises.“

What about social learning challenges in your organization? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments, and we will answer them in a future blog post.


Published by Katelind Hays August 3, 2017
Katelind Hays