As I was pulling together information about social learning for this piece, I quickly realized how closely it relates to a blog I wrote a couple of weeks ago about user-generated content, which is essentially content generated by individuals (informally and unpaid) that contributes to the spread of knowledge.

Both of these concepts democratize the concept of learning, both for how content is created, and how it is shared. Where they differ is how the content is used once it’s been generated. But before you can understand the relationship,  what is social learning?

Social Learning as a theory was first developed in the 1970s by psychologist Albert Bandura who claims learning is a “cognitive process that takes place in a social context and can occur purely through observation or direct instruction, even in the absence of motor reproduction and direct reinforcement”.

Beyond any formal definition, social learning really is not a new form of learning at all, it is possibly the oldest form of learning for humans. Humans have been learning through brainstorming, observation, conversation, and collaboration for a very long time. In a sense, it is a natural form of learning.

But how does this transition to learning in the workplace?

In recent years, social learning has been redefined for the workplace. New collaborative tools such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Webineers, Wiki and eLearning have propelled its growth into the workplace.

In the context of the workplace, social learning is characterized by informal methods of collaboration between learners. Collaboration occurs in many different forms between colleagues, whether it be through brainstorming, conversation, blogs, forum discussions, videos or social media.

Simply put, social learning is the continuous process of learning from others, and many think this has a positive impact on employee growth and knowledge.

Despite some concerns with measuring the ROI of training using social learning, and fears of employees taking advantage of social learning time to simply socialize, there are many benefits:

  • Cost Effective – Using social learning to supplement your training program is very cost effective for companies, and it makes sense – collaboration and social media tools are largely free.
  • Easily implemented with eLearning – Seeing that many companies have already adopted eLearning for their training strategy, it’s useful to know that many Learning Management Systems (LMS) naturally facilitate social learning with their use of profiles, messaging systems, videos and discussion forums.
  • Employees approve – Employees are human, and humans are social creatures, and it seems we excel at using social avenues to facilitate learning. We enjoy learning through conversation and receiving feedback from their peers. One study shows that 80 per cent of employees found collaboration to be motivating, and a study done by Harvard Business School revealed an 85 per cent course completion rate when they incorporated social learning into their courses.
  • Fosters Productivity and Creativity – Companies that use social learning saw an increase in productivity and creativity in the workplace. Comcast experienced a 40 per cent increase in productivity by using social learning in their sales training, and achieved a 60 per cent increase in actual sales. Employers also saw that through collaboration, employees are able to leverage one another’s knowledge and expertise, therefore taking advantage of the collective knowledge of the organization, encouraging innovation and problem-solving.

In summary, social learning has huge benefits. It is not only cost-effective and helps facilitate better relationships between students or employees, it has also proven to be an effective form of learning that results in a positive ROI for companies overall. Perhaps you should consider incorporating it into your employee training program.