Social learning: A retail case study

Conor Gilligan looks to retail to see social learning in action. 

Social learning is nothing new. In fact Albert Bandura developed one of the most relevant theories. This model talks about the ‘reciprocal determinism’, meaning the world and people’s behaviour affect each other. 

It’s interesting in learning and development as we have seen a move to ‘talent developers’ and are also incorporating ‘culture and environment’ into our roles. This makes sense really, assuming you agree with Bandura’s Theory. Your world, culture and environment influences your behaviours and therefore learning.

Bandura’s Social Learning model is the reciprocal link between cognitive, behavioural and environmental influences. Often this comes through human modelling of others; this might be generally in the workplace, or could be online.

There are several factors that are needed for Bandura’s Theory to work. These are:

  • Attention – Ability to notice what is happening in a social learning forum. This may include sensory abilities for example.
  • Retention – This relates to remembering what you have learnt.
  • Reproduction – Self observation techniques and reproducing these.
  • Motivation – This is your reasoning to imitate, for example, this could be personal development objectives.

Why is Social Learning Important?

Traditional learning models have been associated with formal processes that are performed in the workplace. For example, attend this training workshop on ‘X’ date or log onto the Learning Management System before ‘Y’ date to complete your compliance training.

Your world, culture and environment influences your behaviours and therefore learning.

With the modern corporate learner being busier than ever, they need learning which is on demand. According to a recent report from Towards Maturity, a learner’s main objective is to acquire knowledge faster to be able to do their job. 

This knowledge isn’t necessarily in a workshop or online in a pre-built learning object, instead this is located with the specialist in that area. The 70:20:10 model, created by the Centre for Creative Leadership, suggests that 70% of learning is experience on the job, 20% is exposure or social learning and 10% is formal education. 

Social learning in this case aims to link the 20% and 70% of corporate learning that occurs. For example, the 70% could be experiencing something new in a meeting, this may then be discussed in a social learning forum leveraging the 20%. 

In this way, social learning is the ‘glue’ between the 70% and 20% of learning that is happening. There are three areas which social learning leverages:

  • Experiential – As above, linking the experience with the social learning.
  • Team Based – Back to Bandura’s Theory, ‘reciprocal determinism’ comes into play, people start to imitate others.
  • Knowledge Acquisition – Using the ‘glue’ that is Social Learning, means people can access knowledge much quicker than before.

Social Learning: A retail perspective

I recently met with Nina Delgaty, academy manager at Asda. It was interesting to learn about her background moving from the marketing department through to talent development. This is something I believe is an asset to the team, for example, there are quite a few synergies with marketing and learning. 

With marketing, you need to attract, engage and convert, this relates to learning through (i) attracting the learner to your workshop/ or online forum, (ii) engaging the learner with personalised content, when they need it (iii) converting the learner through knowledge acquisition and changing behaviours.

Asda is part of Walmart, which according to The National Retail Federation, is the largest retailer in the world.

Much of the drive towards social learning is linked with the advances in technology, not just from a software perspective, where now we can place more relevant content in the hands of our people quicker than ever using machine learning – but also by leveraging mobile devices to deliver content ‘chunks’ via smart phones or tablets.

“Technology is evolving at a relentless pace. It is playing a big part in our everyday lives and here at Asda we think it can help all of us learn more. We’ve started using a platform to encourage social learning amongst teams, enabling colleagues to share, comment and connect with others, and to learn new skills and keep up with market trends.

The way we learn is changing. We expect it on demand and personal to us just like the way we consume information. Smart devices are placing knowledge in the palm of our hands and we’re used to accessing information in bite size chunks.

We have a choice: either we embrace the opportunities technology gives us and find new ways to connect with our colleagues, or we get left behind and we fail to enable the skills our colleagues need to deliver for their customers. Time to join the digital revolution.” – Nina Delgaty, Academy Manager, Asda

Furthermore, Asda see their use of social learning as an enabler for sharing, commenting and connecting with others to keep up to date with trends. 

With this in mind, and the fast paced retail environment we live in today, corporates are looking to leverage social learning tools more so than ever to stay ahead of the curve. Failing to do so may mean that they fall behind the pack.


About the author

Conor Gilligan is vice president, EMEA, professional services at webanywhere


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