Social learning has been happening forever. People learn first, and best, from one another. Think about it: apprenticeship models have taught people trades for centuries, and oral history has imparted age-old wisdom within societies since the early days of humanity. Even though social learning is not a new concept, technology influences how the process occurs in workplace training programs.
Social Learning in Training
While it’s possible, and important, to support the possibility of social collaboration in our training programs, it’s not something you make people do. Rather, the process of social learning happens naturally and spontaneously.
As learning professionals, we should aim to take advantage of this organic learning exchange between peers (the very definition of social learning). Facilitators, trainers, and instructional designers can embed the tools to promote social learning, but we need to do so with the understanding that it cannot be forced upon our learners.
Modern workplace learning recognizes that we want to take advantage of the value of interaction between learners. In both in-person and virtual classrooms, we must move away from lecture-oriented programs, and towards the flipped model.
Our goal should be to facilitate (not dominate or lead) conversations among learners using options available to us, like micro-learning, video, and learning communities.
Examples of Social Learning
Modern training programs can use a variety of tools to encourage social learning, including:
- Microblogs: Microblogs capture key points, reaction to content, and reinforce lessons taught. Twitter and virtual classroom chat are two common examples of this toolset. They encourage meaningful multitasking in formal learning, keep learners’ attention, build on their contributions, and mimic the learning they do on their own.
- Communities of Learning: An online community of learning creates a space where participants can contribute ideas and collaborate with one another between and after live class sessions. A discussion forum is a common place for a community of learners. Note: simply posting a question and asking for responses doesn’t create a community of learning – it must spark conversation so participants begin to learn from one another.
- Wikis: Wikis are a collaborative website in which users have the power to edit content and structure. Modern classroom learners can contribute ideas, extrapolate on existing information, and think through various scenarios.
Challenges of Social Learning
When implementing social aspects in our learning programs, a number of challenges will likely arise, such as:
- Hesitant participants - Learners don’t like the sensation of forced socialization. If they’ve participated in programs that included required social interaction, you’ll likely have a hard time re-engaging them in even well-designed social opportunities.
- Overwhelming technology - When adding new social tools in training, acknowledge that they can be a lot for new learners to manage. Do your best to include everyone, and to make them comfortable with the activities. Be advised that learners may each choose to opt-in at different levels of involvement and frequencies.
- “What’s the point?”- Many people don’t see the value of using social tools in work or learning. Make sure to clarify the relevancy of the social activity to the training and their jobs.
- Unruly learners - Participants can go off the rails in social learning environments. When actively moderating communities of learning, send people in the right direction when things go wrong.
When we start to include social learning in our training designs, we combine informal activities with formal content, and that can be hard to evaluate or measure. The true value lies in the fact that we’re providing many different opportunities to enhance the formal learning experience and for people to learn from one another. Ultimately, we’re creating true new learning cultures where people aren’t afraid to be wrong or to question for understanding.