How to adopt social learning in the workplace

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AuthorNatalie Ann HolborowDigital Content Specialist
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Reading Time6 minutes
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Humans are by nature social beings. Social interactions are critical to our development—from those burbled attempts to repeat our very first words to watching a colleague demonstrate a new task, we constantly learn via “observation, imitation and modeling” (Albert Bandura). Bandura’s social learning theory might not be anything new, but the concept is being used by high-performing organisations that want to harness the power of collaborative learning in the flow of work.

Don’t make the mistake that social learning is simply limited to training. At the 2016 CIPD show, founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies Jane Hart noted: “The majority of social learning happens through social collaboration—working with your colleagues in your organisation—and now it is frequently underpinned by social technologies.”

If you’re serious about creating a workplace where knowledge flows freely and employees are constantly developing the skills they need to reach their potential and perform, it’s time to foster a culture of social learning and equip yourself with the tools to support it.

Here’s how.

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Build relationships across the whole organisation

L&D has a long history of being an individual function within a business. Traditionally, L&D was focused on organising training logistics, creating learning plans and producing designs and training materials based on current needs. Up until now, your job will likely have been based upon planning a training programme and assigning a trainer to teach your employees the relevant skills over a day or more of formal learning. As part of a separate silo within the business, the L&D manager has delivered the learning initiatives with little need to consult with other departments.

However, as the modern workplace evolves and responsibilities merge, there is greater demand for L&D to become skilled collaborators. No longer do L&D managers consult solely with the IT department to implement projects; now, a typical skill set will involve negotiating with business leaders, motivating the workforce, championing learning technology and coaching managers.

So how do you encourage a greater degree of collaboration across the business?

To encourage people out of their individual siloes, try running regular informal learning events such as ‘lunch and learn’ sessions or networking events. Marketing can help here—how about promoting expertise from different departments and sharing as a video or blog post? FAQs and forums can also help make a habit of seeking answers from others. Once people know where to look for certain knowledge in the organisation and get to know in-house experts, knowledge-sharing will become more natural.

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Work with managers to encourage collaboration

Line managers translate policies into day-to-day practices and are the familiar faces your staff will associate with people management and work allocation. It’s your line managers who play a key part in the learning transfer process and help learners create behavioural change post-learning.

According to Harvard Business Review, your line managers can do three key things to foster learnability in the workplace:

  • Select for it - Focus on those employees who demonstrate great learnability and a thirst for knowledge.
  • Nurture it - Encourage positive learning behaviours by leading by example.
  • Reward it - To encourage positive habits, give colleagues recognition for demonstrating keen learnability.

As role models, your line managers should be constantly demonstrating the importance of learning from daily work and engaging in collaborative learning. There’s plenty that you as an L&D professional can do to support managers and help them become social leaders. You could provide coaching or advice, for example, or encourage those who are interested to engage in a social leadership programme.

Champion those who are doing it right to encourage others to follow suit.

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Provide the right tools for social learning

A survey by Gartner CFO revealed that 74% of companies surveyed plan to permanently shift employees to remote work after the Covid-19 crisis ends. The biggest challenge of independent online learning is isolation, so it’s important you keep your remote employees connected and foster a culture of social learning from behind the screen. However, to do this you’re going to need the right tools for the job.

Luckily, today’s learning technologies allow you to harness collaborative, informal learning and make it centralised in one virtual space to be accessed from anywhere at any time. Creating networks of employees and allowing them to join communities of practice pertaining to similar areas of work, themes or disciplines is a good start. Ideally, these should allow free discussion and a safe environment to share ideas, multimedia, solutions and suggestions. The best solutions allow employees to create their own networks to focus on nuances or in-depth analysis and give them the opportunity to invite colleagues to join the discussion.

Take the Thinqi learning system for example. Thinqi is xAPI compliant and complete with an inbuilt learner record store. This means it can capture learning in a variety of guises and is perfectly set up to support the capture of collaborative learning. What’s more, by providing those all-important collaboration and discussion spaces, it allows everyday conversation to be incorporated within the learning system—a vast majority of which is valuable learning material. What does this mean for your organisation?

Firstly, your employees are collaborating and sharing ideas in a way that boosts performance in a cost-effective way. Secondly, your employees have a single place to go to access their formal, informal and collaborative learning – regardless of where they are and when they log in.

That’s smart learning.

In summary…

What effect does a culture of social learning have on motivation and performance?

One study, carried out by Stanford University, revealed that working as a team can significantly boost performance. During the study, it was observed that the participants who were primed to act collaboratively stuck at their task 64% longer than their solitary peers. In addition to this, they also reported higher levels of engagement, lower fatigue and a higher success rate. These effects lasted for several weeks.

What this showed was that simply feeling part of a team can be enough to drive motivation.

A successful organisation is one that communicates well. Reward any instances of collaborative working and make it part of your company culture – only then will your employees be more inclined to look to others rather than push through tasks alone in a blinkered manner.

Your organisation may use a range of practices depending on your industry or project, but regardless of how you enable it, collaborative working will strengthen the process and end product to help your organisation reach peak performance.

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