Social learning is the process of learning through social interaction between peers. The most common illustration of social learning in the workplace is the chance meeting by the water cooler. Two or more people run into each other, share ideas, and walk away a little more knowledgeable in the process.
Social learning can take place through informal one-on-one encounters, among teams in the course of real-time problem-solving, through social software, expertise directories, and more. The key is for companies to foster a culture of continual learning, in which employees are empowered and encouraged to share what they know with each other and seek out colleagues’ expertise to increase performance across the organization.
To ensure employees retain new knowledge, it’s extremely helpful to make learning an active process. Humans learn best by asking questions, discussing issues, sharing ideas, and teaching what we know. According to an fMRI study by Northwestern Medicine, the more control an individual has in deciding what information to retain to help them solve real-world problems, the more likely they are to retain that information.
When we are engaged — repeating information and ideas while interacting with others to explore an area of learning — it stimulates deeper critical thinking.
No matter what a person’s dominant learning style is — auditory, visual, or tactile — active participation is the most effective way to solidify new knowledge for the vast majority of people. This is the potential power of social learning done well.
The Benefits of Social Learning Technology
Social learning enhances traditional training methods by bridging the gap between formal and informal workplace education. Social learning software solutions bridge this gap by offering:
- The ability to upload user-generated content, including sharing of best practices and collateral by peers
- Opportunities for self-directed learning, which fosters engagement through autonomy, mastery, and purpose
- A platform to develop learning communities: groups that collaborate on their shared learning experience
- Mobile learning opportunities, available anytime from anywhere for the on-the-go workforce
- Metrics beyond a “grade,” including content access reports, gamification, and leaderboard-type measurements of engagement
Social learning technology lets employees learn in real time and find answers to their questions as they come up, rather than relying on formal classroom training. While there’s still a time and place for formal training sessions, social learning technology helps ensure that employees are continuously learning new things that will help them be more efficient at their jobs.
To learn more, check out our white paper, “Social Learning and the Future of Work.” It explores how social learning can empower and engage your employees while allowing them to learn in a way they prefer.