Why social learning needs to be a part of your L&D strategy

Reading time: 8m

AuthorNatalie Ann HolborowDigital Content Specialist
Reading Time8 minutes

In recent years, technology has completely transformed the way we work and learn. Accelerated by the remarkable shift in the 2020 job market due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an estimated 70% of the workforce will be working remotely at least five days per month. For learning and development professionals, taking learning online became no longer a lengthy consideration but an immediate requirement.

With upskilling and reskilling the top focus for L&D in the 2021 Global Sentiment Survey, your employees must learn constantly to bridge any skills gaps created by digitalisation. People are increasingly looking to do this on their own or from their peers as they aren’t getting what they want from their employers.

After all, there are vast reservoirs of untapped knowledge in your organisation. Understanding the best ways to utilise that knowledge can be hugely beneficial to your company’s bottom line.

We need to talk about social learning.


What is social learning theory?

Social learning might be a hot topic in L&D, but it’s not new. First coined by Albert Bandura in the late 1960s, social learning theory incorporates the idea that people learn via “observation, imitation and modeling”. It suggests that reinforcement alone is not enough – learning must also be accompanied by the cognitive processes of attention, motivation and memory.

Social learning theory is often seen as bridging the gap between behaviourism and cognitivism (which we will explore in future blog posts). To quote Bandura: “Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them on what to do.”

Put simply, it’s all about how we learn in the presence of others.


Why is social learning important in modern L&D?

The modern workplace simply doesn’t accommodate the old framework of formal, classroom-based training as effectively as before. Employees don’t want to sit through hours of ‘chalk and talk’ style learning while their workload continues to escalate.

Although the 70:20:10 model of learning has in more recent times been criticised as an oversimplification (and not necessarily applicable for every learning professional), it is still a useful learning method rather than a strict rule. Devised by researchers Morgan McCall, Michael M. Lombardo and Robert A. Eichinger in the 1980s, the model suggests that:

  • 70% of learning is experiential, occurring through daily tasks, challenges and practice
  • 20% of learning is social, occurring with and through other people (e.g. our co-workers)
  • 10% of learning is formal, occurring through structured training courses and programmes

Luis E. Romero, an MIT-trained economist, speaker and author, states that “when a team develops a culture based on humility, hard work, excellence and learning, its members become able to translate both their victories and their failures into inputs for continuous improvement.” He also highlights that in doing so, each team member will also benefit from the opportunity to develop specialised skills that give the team a competitive advantage.

Romero has cited learning as one of the key factors in developing this culture; as the workplace moves away from formal, classroom-based training, employees are seeking more informal opportunities to learn from their peers and mentors.

The message is clear: learning together drives results.


How can you encourage social learning online?

Is your LMS or LXP equipped with the tools you need to collaborate, share and discuss learning content regardless of time or geographical location? Can you really enable social learning opportunities in an asynchronous, online learning environment?

Imagine one of your employees, Callum, has just started your training course in leadership and management. Data within your learning platform reveals he mainly logs in to complete his training activities on Wednesday evenings when the children are in their after-school sports club and he has plenty of peace and quiet. Although the hours of peace are nice, he also worries he’ll miss the social aspect of face-to-face learning.

Meanwhile Sofia, another of your employees, is currently seeking an answer to a question she has about a module on the same course. As she sometimes helps her parents with their restaurant in the evenings, she tends to log in to the learning platform early in the morning when she feels less rushed. She is beginning to doubt herself and wonders if she is the only one on the course who has questions about this module.

How can Callum avoid feeling alone when studying alone at home? How can Sofia find the support she needs from her peers in a digital environment?

Use communication tools

Sofia posts a message on a discussion board while logged into the learning platform one morning. By the time she returns home from a shift in the restaurant, she can already see that four people have helpfully replied to her question. One of the respondents has even included a link to an engaging video on the topic which features a talk by a world-renowned expert.

Sofia closes her laptop and breathes a sigh of relief. She didn’t need to lose confidence after all.

Remember, just like Sofia, not everybody is comfortable with contributing their ideas in a classroom environment. Some people may feel self-conscious or intimidated in front of more vocal peers. Some may need more time to consider their answers, or there may be cultural differences where it is deemed impolite to question the person leading the session.

Enabling online discussion helps to overcome many of these barriers. Everybody has an equal chance of sharing their views and making their voices heard; in the digital world, everyone speaks at the same volume. The pressure of trying to compete with more confident members of the classroom is reduced, and by having an online space that’s open at any time, learners have time to consider their responses carefully before sharing their thoughts.

Create engaging, accessible virtual classrooms

Over to our other learner, Callum. His main worry is that he will miss the face-to-face element of the training room. However, Callum discovers that the course involves fortnightly virtual classroom sessions with several of his peers.

Virtual classrooms prove a great way for Callum to interact through tools such as annotations, slide shows, screen sharing, video, breakout rooms, chat and Q&A panels. This ensures his first-ever virtual classroom session is an engaging and highly sociable experience – so much so, he’s already looking forward to the next one.

Ready to give virtual classrooms a go? How many people you include in a virtual classroom is up to you, but you need to consider factors such as the lesson content (will there be group activities, for example?). Bear in mind that in order to make your sessions as inclusive as possible, you need to consider those with poor internet connections whose experience may be compromised if the sessions become too large and the bandwidth cannot cope.

After all, if it’s not inclusive and accessible, it’s not going to be quite the social experience you hoped for.

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In summary…

The biggest challenge of independent online learning is isolation. Thankfully, today’s learning systems come equipped with communication tools such as forums, comment threads and real-time chat facilities. This means discussions can be held, questions can be asked, and feedback can be given regardless of time and location. In the Thinqi learning system, for example, those all-important ‘Discussions’ and ‘Groups’ features mean you are able to incorporate everyday conversation into the learning system – a vast majority of which is valuable learning material. It’s 100% accessible whenever and wherever you and your learners are.

When learning is relevant, available at the point of need and is easily accessible, it becomes a natural occurrence. The more people share knowledge, ask questions and engage with each other, the more it will become a cornerstone of organisational culture.

When we consider that organisations with a strong learning culture boast 37% higher productivity, this is what’s really going to make a difference to bottom-line figures.

The secret is social.


Want to see how Thinqi’s cutting-edge features can make for a smarter workforce? Request a demo and one of our friendly learning experts will only be too happy to chat with you about your requirements. #ThinkSmart

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