Dispelling the myths of social learning

Written by Alison Maitland on 11 May 2018 in Features
Features

Everyone knows what social learning is - but is your business doing it? Alison Maitland gives us some tips.

Whether we realise it or not, we are wired for social learning. From babies learning how to speak by imitating others to adults discovering how to put up wallpaper on YouTube, social learning is the main way in which we acquire and pass on knowledge.

But, when it comes to business, social learning is not happening as effectively in the office as it does outside of work in our everyday life. In our rapidly evolving, on demand society, this is something that businesses need to change if they want to develop the workforce required to drive their present and future success.

The myths holding organisations back

One of the things holding organisations back from effectively leveraging social learning as part of their learning and development (L&D) strategies is the sheer number of myths about social learning that are prevalent in business. So, the first step to being able to use social learning to its full potential, is recognising these myths and misconceptions that are prevalent in business, including that social learning:

  • Happens organically. Technically this is true as we start learning socially from the moment we are born, but optimal social learning needs to be encouraged and facilitated through carefully constructed L&D strategies.
  • Requires technology. In today’s digital environment, with a wealth of educational videos, podcasts and forums, it’s easy to assume that social learning can only happen through technology. But while it often does, it’s not the only way.
  • Can’t be measured. Research has revealed that 83% of people don’t measure the effectiveness of social learning, but it absolutely can be.

How to unlock social sharing

Now that you understand these misconceptions, it’s time to find out how to actually unlock the potential of social learning in practice.

Make sure people feel safe to share

While making sure individuals feel safe and comfortable in sharing information and experiences might sound obvious, it’s incredibly important. Especially as failing – and particularly sharing these failures with colleagues - is a key part of social learning.

One good way of creating an environment that is conducive to this is by encouraging people, and especially leaders, to test out new ideas and share examples of when things didn’t go to plan.

Look at what’s rewarded

Just as some might be reluctant to share perceived failures, many people also think that their value lies in their knowledge, encouraging some to keep this close to their chest. But as knowledge is power for most organisations, you should ensure that sharing it with others is valued and recognised as equal to individual achievements.

Giving out ‘sharing secrets to success’ awards is one way to encourage a culture of sharing learning.

Don’t start with a digital platform

As mentioned earlier, social learning is not all about technology. So, it’s important that you don’t centre your social learning strategy around a digital platform, but rather think of the wider learning system and how to support this, part of which might be through a digital platform.

To create a system that really adds value, keep asking questions such as: what are people’s real day-to-day needs? And what are they hungry to learn about in our company and for their career? Then, design the platform around the answers.

Rethink how you prove impact

Whilst quantifying value and proving return on investment is not straight forward with social learning strategies, it is possible (and often an important part of getting senior management bought in to the programme).

It’s all about thinking differently in terms of how you measure engagement and use qualitative data, by, for example, collecting stories of personal change in video blogs or learning diaries.

If you can’t change a lot, tweak a little

Finally, don’t feel disheartened if your social learning strategy feels a long way off. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so just keep the concept of social learning in mind when planning your next intervention and constantly look for ways in which you can create more opportunities to facilitate it.

Social sharing – the future of learning

In today’s world, learning is no longer simply about enabling individuals to learn fast, but in addition it’s about unleashing the ideas, knowledge and experience of entire communities, to not just boost performance but enable the whole organisation to grow and learn in real-time.

Looking out for beliefs that might be holding organisations back from leveraging social learning, and thinking about the different ways in which to encourage it, is key to reaping these benefits.

 

About the author

Alison Maitland is director of research and product at Lane4

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