Social Learning: How to Implement it in Your Company

Manfred Rump

A group of employees doing social learning
VIDEO With english subtitles

Humans are inherently social beings. From the agricultural revolution to the exploration of the cosmos - knowledge exchange has been the basis for our developing civilization. So social learning is far from new. Nevertheless, this buzzword is becoming increasingly popular in the professional context. But why? And what does social learning look like within a company?

What is Social Learning?

Simply put, social learning means to learn by sharing with others.

It refers to a method of learning that focuses on the interactions between different members of a group.

Accordingly, social learning in a professional context can take place both formally and informally, such as through conversations with colleagues in the office or through digital learning methods like the participation in online forums or webinars.

How long has social learning been around?

In the 1970s, psychologist Albert Bandura developed his theory of social learning. The term "social" means that people learn by observing and imitating behaviors, attitudes, and emotions.

Bandura assumed that learning is not a purely behavioral process, but rather a cognitive process that takes place in a social context.

And indeed, social learning has been in practice sine the first communities, and we also instinctively apply this form of learning from childhood. Things such as basic beliefs, political attitudes, gender roles are also we acquired by observing other people and their behavior and reactions.

What does social learning mean in everyday work?

In a professional context, it's not uncommon for us to start by Googling for solutions to problems ourselves before asking our colleagues. And since Corona and social distancing at the latest, there are more and more digital alternatives to face-to-face training in the seminar room.

Learning via app, e-learning platform, or video courses are becoming increasingly popular among employees - also because it enables self-directed learning with all its advantages.However, this type of learning does not necessarily take place in exchange with others. Video courses, quizzes, other microlearning formats and similar forms of learning can generally be completed autonomously by employees.

Nevertheless, social interaction with colleagues continues to play a central role in the learning process. In times of home office, social distancing, and digital learning, the "social learning" concept is becoming more appealing to all for many reasons.

And rightly so, because it offers the following five advantages:

Social Learning: The 5 advantages at a glance

  1. More effective learning: By sharing knowledge and experience, employees can learn faster and expand their knowledge. This is because in ongoing interactions, employees automatically repeat, reflect and question information much more frequently – and thus counteract the forgetting curve.
  2. Improved collaboration: Whether company-wide learning communities or small learning groups - well-connected employees learn and work better together.
  3. Motivation of employees: Fixed learning groups, workshop dates, and gamification approaches on learning platforms not only promote group exchanges, but also generate responsibility: In social learning, everyone can pass on their knowledge. This makes employees responsible and motivates them.
  4. Knowledge transfer within the company: If employees can have decentralized knowledge exchange with colleagues within and across departments, a company becomes more "quick-witted" and can respond more quickly to new challenges.
  5. Promotion of "soft skills": Communication skills, teamwork, empathy – by interacting with others, employees also continuously work on their interpersonal skills.

This means that social learning must not be neglected in increasingly digital learning environments!

The good news is that there are many ways to integrate the concept of social learning, especially in e-learning! Next, let's take a look at what contemporary social learning with digital learning forms can look like.

How do I implement social learning in my organization?

There are several ways to establish social learning in the enterprise. Here are three approaches:

Peer-to-peer learning

Peer-to-peer learning means that employees learn from each other. This can be done through mentoring or coaching.

Example: You could introduce a mentoring program in which experienced employees support newcomers or entry-level colleagues and help them improve their skills.

Create networks and communities

In networks and communities, employees can share their knowledge and learn from each other.

Example: Companies could introduce a digital learning platform such as Masterplan, where employees can get together in learning groups or measure their learning activities on the basis of learning points within the team.

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Regular live meetings or virtual workshops

Regular meetings or workshops on specific learning topics provide a platform for sharing experiences with colleagues, for example through keynote speeches by representatives from different departments.

Example: Monthly all-hands meetings offer the opportunity to report on and discuss projects and progress from different departments.

What are the prerequisites for social learning in the company?

For social learning to bear fruit in an organization, three basic factors are critical:

1. A learning-friendly corporate culture

Learning must be seen as an important part of a company at all levels and must also be supported by managers. Organizations that proactively promote personal responsibility, an open communication culture and teamwork also pave the way for successful social learning.

2. Appropriate tools, methods and skills

In addition to the corporate culture, the right instruments are also needed, i.e., tools and methods that enable collaborative interaction – and, if necessary, also independent of location and time.

To build a company-wide learning community, a learning engagement platform such as Masterplan can be used. In addition, tools for internal communication support the exchange among colleagues.

It should be noted that the employees themselves must also be enabled to deal with new technologies.

For peer-to-peer learning and workshops outside the virtual space, a corresponding infrastructure and processes are also needed to systematically establish social learning in the organization.

Tipp: Here too, combinations of digital learning forms and classroom formats are always conceivable. Examples of this are offered by our Masterplan xChange Booster.

3. Clear accountability within the HR department

The selection of tools and interactive formats as well as the empowerment of employees should be coordinated in close exchange with the workforce and the success monitored through regular feedback.

In this sense, L&D managers and HR officers become first and foremost enablers and supporters in the context of social learning. They must ensure that employees can network and exchange in the best possible way in the formal and informal formats suitable for the company in order to learn from each other.

3 tips for successful social learning

1. Proactively promote exchange among colleagues

A variety of low-threshold formats are already suitable for getting social learning rolling, including mentoring programs between new and experienced employees or assigning employees to cross-departmental learning groups.

2. Boost engagement through gamification

In the context of corporate training, gamification refers to a playful learning experience that encourages learners to continue learning. In the context of social learning, a digital learning platform such as Masterplan can be used to encourage competition among learners.

Learners collect learning points for completed courses and can compare themselves with other colleagues on the ranking list – and thus spur each other on!

3. The mixture makes the difference

E-learning platform, face-to-face workshops, regular learning groups – social learning can take place online and offline. Likewise, a wide variety of formats can be combined in the sense of blended learning:

A digital video course, for example, can serve learners as preparation for a workshop day in the office, and the results of the face-to-face event can then in turn be discussed digitally in the learning groups.

Conclusion: Social Learning + E-Learning = 🚀

Social learning works intuitively in private everyday life, but is not a matter of course in the professional context, especially in times of Corona and social distancing. Yet learning by sharing with one another is of central importance for learning success, as we have shown with the many benefits.

Companies are therefore called upon to proactively promote social learning. A positive learning culture is the basic prerequisite for this, and digital tools are important building blocks for establishing social learning as a natural part of everyday working life.

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Manfred Rump

Manfred Rump is Senior Content Marketing Manager at Masterplan. In the blog, he shares insights from his conversations with learning experts and highlights current learning trends in companies.
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