Harness the Power of Social Learning in Your Organization

Social learning in an organization. “In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life.” – Albert Badura

Many leaders are increasingly frustrated by the time and money wasted on traditional types of training. These seminars, workshops, and webinars, while packed with helpful information, rarely lead to tangible results. If you lead a team, finding the best way for your team to be fully engaged in what they are learning should be a priority. Which is why many organizations are looking at social learning.

Although the term is relatively new, social learning has been a powerful vehicle for human progress throughout history. According to ideas proposed by learning experts, such as psychologist Albert Bandura, we learn primarily via interaction and shared experience. 

One increasingly popular example of a social learning forum is YouTube. YouTube users upload their own content, on a topic of their choosing, and the content’s credibility is mainly determined by the popularity and rating of the video from those within the community. This highlights a key difference—social learning is self-regulatory. (Interestingly, an article from Wegner and Trayner comments on how some online communities mirror aspects of Communities of Practice). 

What are the advantages of social learning?

One advantage of social learning is that it stimulates attention and motivates action. It’s very difficult to learn information when you don’t find it interesting. The social element adds a degree of pressure and increases our focus. There is also typically some kind of social reward that goes along with our learning, which further motivates us. 

Another advantage of social learning is that learners retain more, and for longer. In traditional learning environments, there is often a lack of information retention evident after only a few days. Social learning encourages practical learning in working environments and allows learners to actively pull knowledge from experts within the organizations instead of having knowledge pushed on them (which leads to less retention).

Social learning is integral to a Community of Practice — a community that develops organically from a common concern who collectively use their skills and knowledge to build trust and share solutions. The communities that result from social learning establish a system for troubleshooting, problem-solving, research and development, and innovation. There is no better way to ensure engagement from each member of your team!

How to Adopt Social Learning 

Draw on the help of experts. 

The principle tenet of social learning is the power of learning by example. Every organization has people that are more experienced than others in various areas. Educate your team by giving them channels where the experts on your team can share their knowledge. 

Forums and message boards. 

These channels can be easily created and maintained online. It should be a space where participants can ask questions and receive answers from within the organization. It can also be a good idea to encourage users to rate answers by their educational value. Another way to quickly get a new member up to speed is the use of an inter-organizational wikipedia as a source of specific, helpful information. 

Reward progress.

You can’t force someone to learn, but you can make it as easy and rewarding as possible. A great way to encourage your team to share their knowledge is via shared tools that support collaboration. Invest in good infrastructure to provide your team with the tools they need to collaborate effectively in real-time.

There’s no doubt that social learning is a powerful way to improve the effectiveness of your organization. Nothing can replace the process of asking questions and testing solutions on actual problems in real-time. 

Are you intrigued by what your team could achieve using social learning in your organization? Contact me to learn how your team can develop an action-oriented model of activities and ways of communicating that drives you towards your joint purpose. Or download my special report Leading a Purpose-Driven Team to learn how to get started.

Community of practice

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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