How to use social learning to boost learner engagement

Reading time: 8m

AuthorNick DaviesChief Commercial Officer (CCO)
Reading Time8 minutes

Humans are by nature social beings. Social interactions are critical to our development – from those burbled attempts to repeat familiar words to mimicking our colleagues as they demonstrate new tasks. Albert Bandura’s social learning theory explores how we constantly learn via “observation, imitation and modeling”.

Bandura’s social learning theory might not be anything new (it’s been around since 1977), but it’s being used today by high-performing organisations that want to harness the power of collaborative learning through their online learning platform and drive engagement with learning.

Social learning isn’t strictly limited to formal training activities. At the 2016 CIPD show, founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies Jane Hart said: “The majority of social learning happens through social collaboration – working with your colleagues in your organisation – and it is now frequently underpinned by social technologies.”

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

Here’s how.


Encourage knowledge-sharing across the whole organisation

L&D has a long history of being an individual function within the 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 recent years, your job will likely have involved planning a training program and assigning a trainer to teach your employees the necessary skills over a day or more of, formal learning activities.

As part of a separate silo within the business, some L&D managers might find themselves delivering learning initiatives while consulting little with other departments.

However, as the modern workplace evolves and responsibilities merge, there is greater demand for L&D professionals to become confident collaborators. No longer do they work solely with the IT department to implement projects; today, there is an expectation to consult with business leaders, collaborate with the HR department to identify training requirements, work closely with line managers to improve learning transfer and draw up accountability plans with marketing to promote new training programs.

It’s not just L&D that can benefit from working more closely with other departments. There’s a wealth of untapped knowledge in your organisation – if someone is looking for a person with particular skills or expertise, they may not be aware of an expert within the organisation who can help.

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Today’s learning technologies come equipped with different tools to help you leverage others’ knowledge and facilitate collaboration. With Thinqi’s People app, for example, users can search for a particular skill or topic and discover experts within the business who can help by searching the relevant tags. There is also the option to recommend people based on their skills.

To encourage people to move from a siloed approach to work, create spaces within your learning system for people to network and discuss with other colleagues. Forums, FAQs and dedicated discussion spaces (such as those within Thinqi’s Networks app) mean answers can be sought 24/7 within the learning system from fellow colleagues. You could also try initiatives such as weekly ‘Lunch and Learn’ sessions or monthly networking events on a theme important to the business.

Remember to reach out to your marketing team to help promote social learning initiatives and helpful features within your learning system. They will also help you with ideas to repurpose knowledge within the business – for example, you could record videos of people sharing their knowledge or capture it in an interview-style blog post for people to access within your learning management system.

Once people know where to look for knowledge within the organisation and get to know which experts to turn to, knowledge-sharing will become more natural.


Work with managers to encourage social learning

Line managers translate policies into day-to-day practices and are the people your staff will associate with people management and work allocation. They play a key part in the learning transfer process and help your staff create behavioural change post-learning.

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

  • Select for it - Focus on those employees who demonstrate great learnability and a thirst for knowledge (these will be the easiest to motivate to begin with).
  • Nurture it - Encourage positive learning behaviours by leading by example (this harnesses the power of social influence).
  • Reward it - To encourage positive habits, give colleagues recognition for demonstrating learnability (positive reinforcement and reward can positively impact motivation to learn).

As role models, your line managers should be demonstrating the importance of learning and collaborating with others. There’s plenty that you can do to support line managers and help them become social leaders. You could provide coaching or promote social leadership programmes to instil the desired behaviours.

Champion those who do it well and use social influence to encourage others to follow suit.


Equip your teams with social learning tools

Now that many of us are permanently either remote or hybrid working, the way we work and learn has changed forever. The shift towards blended learning has accelerated and with it, the adoption of digital learning platforms.

One of the biggest challenges of online learning is isolation, so it’s important you keep remote employees connected with other staff and maintain engagement with social learning from behind the screen. To help you do this, you’ll need to equip yourself with the right tools to facilitate and encourage social learning.

Today’s learning platforms allow you to harness collaborative, informal learning and centralise it in one virtual space, accessible from anywhere and 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 place to start. Ideally, these should allow free discussion and a safe environment to share ideas, resources, solutions and feedback.

But how do you capture and track informal social learning activities?

The answer is xAPI (full name: The Experience API). It allows learning content and learning systems to ‘speak’ to each other in a way that records and tracks learning experiences. This is why we designed the Thinqi learning system to be fully xAPI compliant and complete with an inbuilt learner record store. This means it can capture learning in a variety of guises, both formal and informal, and is perfectly set up to support the capture of social learning activities.

Without the ability to capture experiential and social contributions, it becomes difficult to see the full picture when measuring workplace learning. Experiential and social learning is best supported by just-in-time resources, social networks and on-the-job training. For example, by using xAPI statements, we can see who views or downloads resources – whether that’s documents, videos, content packages or even webpages. We can also log forum posts, acknowledge membership and contributions to social subject-specific online groups, record attendance at face-to-face and virtual events and capture actions (such as organising an event or creating a network).

In summary…

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

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 for 64% longer than their solitary peers. They also reported higher levels of engagement, lower levels of fatigue and a higher success rate. These effects lasted for several weeks.

This demonstrated that simply feeling part of a team can be enough to drive motivation.

A successful organisation is one that communicates effectively. Reward instances of social learning – 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 resources and objectives, but regardless of how you enable it, engagement with social learning is a cornerstone of a successful learning culture.

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