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      Social learning: Why culture is more important than technology

      by Susan Dumas

      Social learning

      How can you challenge barriers to make social learning work for you? The more we work with clients, the more we see that company culture is the biggest predictor of success when it comes to introducing any type of learning initiative. 

      The social learning revolution

      "The social learning revolution has only just begun. Corporations that understand the value of knowledge sharing, informal learning and teamwork are heavily investing their resources in collaboration technology and reaping the early rewards."

      Jay Cross, 2009

      It goes without saying that social media communication tools have changed our lives massively and how we communicate with one another and the world around us. As the world becomes more interconnected, keeping up with the latest developments has become more crucial than ever for organisations who are seeking to gain competitive advantage over their competitors and trying hard to impress new customers with varying preferences and tastes. 

      The late Jay cross spoke about the social learning revolution in 2009; more than years later, some organisations are making it work for them and others have still to dip a toe in the water.  So what comes next? Where is learning in the workplace taking us? More than half of companies are already leveraging the power of social media and social learning practices today, and nearly two-third of companies are looking forward to implementing or increasing these initiatives in the future.

      It becomes extremely difficult for us to understand sometimes how our life has changed until we pause for a second and carefully look at how different our life is from what it used to be ten or may be five years ago. Social media, in recent years, has impacted our lives more than anything else. 

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      Cultures go through a number of changes in almost every era, and more recently, our culture is witnessing a massive revolution - the social media revolution. While traditional means of communication are not likely to vanish overnight, now organisations need to prepare themselves to interact via modern communication channels and when it comes to modern communication mediums, social media no wonder is proving to be a powerful medium for engaging with people on the vast planet of ours.

      Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Albert Bandura

      Read more about Albert Bandura's social learning theory models. A look into psychological theory and the science behind learning, particularly social cognitive theory, explains that personal factors, environmental influences, and behavior continually interact to impact how we learn.

      How social learning powers up today’s workplaces

      To reap the real benefits of this learning, building a culture that makes learning engaging and fun, productive and commonplace; a culture where learning AND sharing is an integral part of everyday work. At its most basic level, it is a learning behavior that is controlled by environmental influences rather than internal or innate forces. Psychologists agree that social learning based on observation is a sophisticated process that requires three stages:

      1. Exposure to other people’s responses
      2. Understanding what you see, and
      3. Accepting it as a guide for your own behaviour.

      The evolution of companies from social media to social learning has helped companies accelerate the development of their people and better accomplish their business objectives and targets. It has been predicted that as learning leaders become more acquainted to this learning and the value it can add to an organisation, the challenges with adoption of technology will ease, facilitating more creative and productive use.

      Whilst the technology makes good use of social media, it not merely revolves around the ability to express your ideas in a selected group of friends. It blends in social media tools with a shift in corporate culture, a shift that promotes ongoing knowledge transfer and connects people in ways that makes learning more engaging and much easier.

      By empowering your workforce to become partners in the learning process, organisations can cultivate a culture of learning and collaboration – driving performance, career development, and engagement.

      Supporting the natural process of learning 

      To make this happen, traditional learning setups need to be replaced by social platforms that stimulate ‘flow of knowledge’ where staff can take control over their own learning. In a world of increasingly rapid change, organisations need to cultivate a culture of knowledge sharing and collaboration to promote continuous learning. The key here is making sure to support the natural process of learning, rather than hinder it! Some organisations have experimented with making use of learning tools compulsory, but this is not always successful.

      Does social learning happen as a natural part of our everyday learning?

      Of course it does!


      Most of us turn to friends and trusted colleagues; people with whom we have shared experiences. Therefore, we need to grow in order to grow this network of trusted networks. This observational learning is critical for organisational effectiveness. Directing people to learn in a certain way isn’t really in keeping with the modern worker - who outside the workplace has unlimited access to devices, the internet, apps and all sorts of rich blended learning experiences.

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      Building your network

      Our workplaces are increasingly becoming interconnected as a result of technology related communication. This facilitates organisations to sense systematic changes almost immediately. Feedback loops and reaction times are getting more efficient and powerful.

      This learning requires a certain amount of effort to maintain contact and association with your network of trusted friends and people, so that you know who to look forward to when it comes to asking for advice. With the increased use of distributed user work groups, it has become even more important to cultivate learning.

      So if you are an L&D professional, you could:

      • Talk to managers about professional networks – these are everywhere; e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.
      • Encourage learning through these forums, by for example, curating content from them
      • Make it easy for managers and their teams to find professional networks relevant to them
      • Demonstrate their value – show how it has helped you and others

      Technology versus culture: where social learning thrives

      With the proliferation of social media, people and organisations are leveraging the power of social media for learning in order to improve productivity, business performance, team and job.

      Instigated by leaders, facilitated by technology and ignited by opportunities that arise in the market, social media thrives in a culture that promotes learning.  In some organisations, departmental politics and competition dominate someone’s need for learning or mentoring or gaining a fresh perspective.


      To reap the real benefits of learning, organisations need to break down some specific barriers. Part of why we are not good at helping one another learn and grow is primarily because of our organisational culture and structure.


      Some specific barriers:

      • Making it compulsory – we can’t force people to learn
      • Monitoring usage – rarely does monitoring encourage an open learning culture
      • Being impatient with adoption – take time to allow it to happen
      • Going against the natural way that people learn


      The key point here - ask your staff where communicating with other staff and teams
      might help them in their role,
      and use the tool to facilitate this


      One idea you might want to try, is to find the person who is best at something in your organisation. Ask them to explain how they learn and continually improve. You might find that social collaboration and professional networks are a core driver for them. You could also involve them as a role model in making the learning platform available to specific teams, until you gain a bit of momentum.

      There is so much going on through social networks outside of the workplace, but many of us haven’t incorporated this concept in our work culture and our daily work. Implementing the right strategies at the right time can motivate people to learn. Moreover, learning can gain momentum when we give our due attention to individuals, groups, and projects that interest and energise us.

      Next steps with social learning

      You as an L&D professional can lead the way – it is an exciting opportunity!

      If you want to get started with social learning, contact us for a demo of
      our next generation LMS - learningCloud. 

      "Training often gives people solutions to problems already solved. Collaboration addresses challenges no one has ever overcome before."

      Marcia Conner

      Our modern day workplace is connected, collaborative and global in nature and it is only getting more so. A culture of learning is the key to preparing for the workplace for tomorrow. The biggest advantage your organisation can gain from this learning is that it builds a culture that makes learning exciting.


      Nevertheless, the transition in culture will not happen just by launching an Enterprise Social Learning tool. Organisations will need to implement a observational learning and sharing culture that empowers people not only in their personal development but also the development of their organisations. 


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