No student is an island – the case for social learning

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Written by Armin Hopp on 24 September 2014

Learning and communication are basic human phenomena which can be seen in us from a very early stage. According to Albert Bandura’s social learning theory, young children learn by observing peers and adults around them and imitating their behaviour. This act of imitation is then either rewarded or punished, and children will keep adapting their behaviour accordingly as they grow up.

But once we hit adulthood, learning tends to take on a much more formal and organised role. Classes at school and university expect us to absorb knowledge, learn things off by heart and be able to repeat them verbally or on paper in order to pass. And in the workplace, formal training typically takes place in virtual or face-to-face classes together with a trainer and our colleagues, alongside our usual work schedule. I say formal training because another important way of learning which is more difficult to grasp and measure but plays a huge role in our daily work lives. Asking a colleague to quickly explain a computer programme or hearing the board members talk about the company strategy without a formal presentation are just some examples. So learning is an ongoing and often subtle process, as we’re constantly working out ways to do things better, even if it’s something as minor as a new key combination.

Networked learning

According to Harold Jarche, social learning is all about building and maintaining networks. Here, we connect with each other, try to access each other’s knowledge and learn through our interactions. For HR and L&D managers, social learning is still a relatively new concept. In a formal training scenario, you would need to make a proposal about what the training’s objectives are, allocate a budget, training provider, and report the outcome following the training. Social learning, on the other hand, is much less tangible than this, which is why it has not been too widely, or at least consciously, adopted by organisations so far. But if we could find a way to stimulate the social aspect of learning among employees and build connectivity, this could have a highly positive impact on student motivation and satisfaction.

Social learning on the rise

In an audit conducted last year, only 22 per cent of HR and L&D managers said that their organisation had a social learning strategy, 51 per cent did not have one and 27 per cent planned to implement one in the near future. A third of respondents (34 per cent) said that social learning would be considered within the next three years as high. The data seems to imply that although just over a fifth had some kind of social learning strategy implemented, more organisation are opening up to other methods of learning. I’m keen to see what this year’s survey results will reveal.

In any case, I believe that workplace learning needs to be treated as a much more human matter, not just a formality with a fixed beginning and an end. In an ideal world, management would encourage their workforce to learn from their peers, tap into each other’s knowledge and skills base, regardless of whether they can put a figure on it at the end or not.

There are more technologies entering the market which facilitate collaborative learning and a real exchange between students. Asking for or sharing knowledge, as well as giving and receiving feedback are quick and easy activities which can be carried out via the internet and mobile devices. If managers are convinced by the potential of social learning and communicate this to staff members, it is sure to impact on their motivation. After all, no man is an island – and the same goes for our students.

*Speexx Exchange survey 2013-2014

Armin Hopp is the founder and president of Speexx


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