Learning & Development

Social Learning in the Workplace

If you’re a learning and development professional, the term “social learning” is probably one you’ve been using for so long that you can’t remember the first time you heard it. But for the rest of us, it’s an idea we’ve only more recently come around to. While the idea of social learning—learning from what other people already know—seems straightforward, employers haven’t always used it as an effective training and development tool.

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Social learning encompasses everything from watching a coworker to using crowdsourced materials. In a business context, it includes any type of learning from others that is done more informally rather than in a structured training format. That said, it’s important to note that this definition differs depending on the context. (For example, some organizations refer to social learning as any learning with a social component, even in formal settings.)

Here are some ways employees intentionally and unintentionally use social learning:

  • Consuming content created by others, like blogs, videos, or podcasts.
  • Collaborating with teams to create content. The entire collaboration process allows people to learn from one another.
  • Having discussions with team members when problem-solving.
  • Seeking out input from experts within the organization when trying to find solutions to issues.
  • Getting tips from coworkers on how to make the job easier.
  • Participating in a mentoring program within the organization.
  • Learning new ideas through content shared by others, either directly or on social media platforms.
  • Accessing a social discussion forum or repository of information to answer a question.

Social learning can have an outsized impact on an organization because employees are more directly engaged in the learning process and are, therefore, more likely to retain the information they learn. In most social learning scenarios, the employees are either actively seeking information or more actively involved in the entire process, which is a big component of retention. Thus, social learning can have a huge impact on what an employee retains day to day, and it’s not necessarily difficult to implement.

Realistically, most organizations have been relying on social learning either directly or indirectly for nearly all of their employees, as they all learn from one another regardless of what formal training programs exist. However, more organizations are starting to understand the power of social learning and how to implement it most effectively and are taking steps to influence how easily employees can collaborate.

They’re implementing more social platforms and making information more easily sharable, as well as identifying subject matter experts and making this information known to others. In short, employers are making more of a concerted effort than before in making social learning easy and commonplace.

Does your organization effectively use social learning as a component of employee training? What steps have you taken in recent years to make social learning easier for everyone?