This blog is about the challenges most organisations still face when thinking about social learning. Social learning - our ability to connect with each other, learn from each other and work collaboratively has so much potential for our organisations. Our scalable LMS - learningCloud encourages and facilitates social learning and we talk to clients everyday about how to make it work. But we know it is about more than technology.
What is the big challenge with social learning?
A prominent topic in eLearning and L&D this year, and over the last few years has been the need for and best use of social learning. But most of the conversation is focused on technologies that help us share ideas and knowledge amongst colleagues, such as Sharepoint, Google Plus or Lynda.com. Here at Logicearth we have a site that we use to share interesting articles or notes within the team; many companies will have something similar. While these technologies might be new, the idea of 'social learning' or - learning from others - is not.
Social learning = observational learning
So let's get back to basics. What elements of social learning should we focus on in the workplace?
From the dawn of time, we have developed skills by watching those around us. This is very evident to anyone who has seen young children mimicking their parents' actions and behaviours. Bandura's theory on observational learning suggests that children continually learn good and bad behaviours from their parents. He felt that the importance of observational learning was in helping children (or adults) to learn new responses to situations.
Can we also apply that thinking to the work environment?
I believe we can. When I think back over my career and the different companies I've worked for, I have always learned most from speaking with, listening to and learning from colleagues. Even when I've taken a formal training course or listened to a presentation, the most interesting part is usually the group discussion after. It's in asking questions and working out how we apply knowledge - not just the knowledge for knowledge's sake - that we really learn most.
Encouraging useful social learning practices
Companies like Pixar and Google are famous for their collaborative work spaces to encourage cross-team working. These 'break out' areas or 'work pods' allow employees to get together to talk and share ideas. They are less formal and more open than meeting rooms; often with couches or even beanbags. Sometimes a change of scene or space is enough to inspire new thinking.
But physical chat spaces are just one aspect. There are also good old-fashioned ways of promoting social learning such as, giving someone the chance to learn by observation by sitting in on a meeting or job-shadowing. These ‘old-fashioned’ techniques are often forgotten about as we get lost in our tech! I once spent a day shadowing my MD around London as she attended three different meetings. Just watching how she conducted herself in meetings and managed her time was a very valuable learning experience for me.
Social learning is a mindset
While there's no denying the potential for technology to facilitate social learning, particularly if employees are in dispersed locations, I think that social learning is primarily facilitated by the mindset of the company. The majority of social learning happens as an aside to employees' day-jobs. It's very unlikely that someone's job description will include a task to spend one hour a week sharing knowledge with colleagues.
Where deadlines are looming and employees are under constant time-pressure to deliver on the day job, it's difficult for social leaning to happen. For social learning to thrive, employees must be given the tools but also the time to engage with one another and do tasks like this - write a blog - which may not be part of the day job.
Management need to lead by example and take time out regularly to engage with employees, organise formal and informal training sessions, write blogs, provide the tools for employees to share knowledge and, most importantly, create an atmosphere and a culture that encourages and acknowledges social learning.
If you schedule 100% of your employees' time, there will be very little opportunity for knowledge-sharing. The chat around the coffee machine (or online equivalent) is not only an informal opportunity for employees to share ideas and discuss problems, it's also a chance for individuals to bond as a team. Hearing a colleague tell you about their problem might make you feel better about yours. And you might be able to help them based on your expertise or past experience, making you feel even better again. As long as rules and etiquette are in place to ensure that sensitive information is not shared or discussed inappropriately, everyone's a winner when we take time to share knowledge and talk through problems. So remember kids; stay social!
Are you winning with social learning?
We'd love to hear of your challenges and successes with social learning. Our learning consultants are on hand to answer your questions and share your wins! We'd love to show you how we support social learning in our scalable LMS - learningCloud and through our intelligent learning platform - Percipio.