Social learning is the concept of learning from watching and interacting with other people. In the modern workplace, social learning may take place through company intranets, knowledge sharing platforms, blogs, videos, and more. As workplaces become more focused on collaboration across the organization–rather than top-down silos– the need for effective social learning tools is growing. But unfortunately, some businesses are still wary of incorporating social learning tools in their tech stack.
According to the results of a social learning study conducted by the Brandon Hall Group:
The challenge [of implementing social learning tools] is that few organizations have a complete understanding of what social technologies mean for their learning function. In fact, attitudes toward social learning technologies range from seeing them as time-wasting fads, to looking at them as something you simply buy from a vendor, to understanding that they help enable a cultural shift in learning.
The study also revealed, though, that organizations with the latter attitude — that social technologies represent a cultural shift in learning — are also most likely to be the highest-performing companies among those surveyed (with high performance being defined as companies that increased revenue and improved a majority of their key performance indicators over the previous year). This supports the conclusion that social learning works for organizations that embrace it throughout their culture.
Best Practices for Social Learning Tools
David Hegarty, writing for HC Online, asserts: “successful social learning requires more than choosing a platform and hoping people won’t mind the extra login. Business outcomes like improved sales, productivity, engagement, and time to competence can be directly linked to successful social learning initiatives.” He then offers tips to help organizations get started:
- Set yourself up for success with an easy user experience and seed it with great content
- Lead from the top with direct executive involvement and support
- Understand the pain points of your audience and communicate how they will benefit from participation
- Let the social platform become the “single source of truth” — the knowledge core of the entire organization
It should be noted that the most effective social learning tools require the organization to give up a little bit of control. Learner-generated content, ratings, comments, and discussions tend to scare organizations, but they are the most powerful ways to allow learners to teach each other.
The Future of Work
So what comes next? Where is social learning in the workplace taking us? More than half of companies are already leveraging social learning practices today, and nearly two-thirds of companies are motivated to implement or increase social learning initiatives in the future.
“The evolution from social media to social learning is where forward-thinking companies are moving to accelerate the development of their people and better accomplish business goals,” said Sarah Kimmel, director of research and advisory services at Human Capital Media Advisory Group. “As employees and learning leaders become more comfortable with social learning and the value it can add to an organization, the challenges with adoption will ease, allowing for even more creative and productive use.”
Marcia Conner, author of The New Social predicts:
People will need to learn at work as long as there is work, yet the notion of stopping what you’re doing to learn something new has always wasted time and never will make sense. Each new technology advance that puts real-time instruction in our pockets or on our wrists, on our gloves or in our glasses — wherever we are, however we work — allows us to get better, in context. When we are able to learn anything seamlessly, in the moment of need, we can spend our discretionary time making meaningful choices and working together to create a better world.
Social learning expert Luis Suarez believes that we will begin screening and recruiting candidates for their curiosity and mental agility as much as for their established experience and skills. An employee’s passion for continual learning and sharing is a commodity worth investing in because the rapid flow of information and advancements in technology mean that no one can know everything there is to know about performing their job. Therefore, the ability to learn rapidly, synthesize ideas, and apply new learning immediately in the workplace is in many ways more valuable to the company than general industry knowledge or narrow job expertise.
The new workplace is deeply integrated, collaborative, and global in nature, and it’s only getting more so. A corporate culture of social learning is the key to being ready for the workplace of tomorrow.
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.
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