Learning & Development

Social Learning: The Absolute Ultimate Guide

Nearly every business can benefit from creating a connected culture of learning. A social learning culture means that learning doesn’t just happen in formal training sessions. Instead, the overall design of the workplace is one that fosters information sharing, and employees encounter opportunities to learn on a regular basis.

One way to set up a culture of collaborative learning is to apply the principles of social learning when designing the overall enterprise learning strategy

This guide will examine what social learning is, its benefits, and how training teams can implement it in the workplace. We’ll also cover some interesting points on social learning theory.

What is the social learning theory?

Social learning theory is a learning and social behavior theory which claims that new behaviors could be learned by watching and copying others. Arthur Bandura is credited with the idea that social learning may occur merely by observing others' actions.

The theory bridges cognitive learning with the impacts of behavior and environment. It's one of the four types of learning styles that trainees can fit within.

This concept can absolutely be applied in the workplace. However, it’s not a passive way of learning. Participants must actively observe, remember, and replicate. They must also be motivated to learn from others in their environment. 

Company leaders play an important role here. They must work to create an organizational infrastructure that encourages learning through social engagement and modeling.

Continu’s modern learning platform provides your organization with the right tools to implement a social learning environment. Book a demo today!

What Are the Benefits of Social Learning?

There are many benefits to incorporating social learning style in the workplace. Today, this approach to learning is even more valid, as it can help remote team members retain connections with one another when employees aren’t sharing physical space. 

This setup doesn’t just improve productivity and make training more effective. It also helps to build trust. Here are a few more benefits.

Increased Engagement and Participation

Social learning style is designed to encourage active participation and employee engagement. Trainees communicate and interact as part of the process, which leads to more active learning and better retention of knowledge. Simply adding social functionality to learning can positively impact participation. 

More Collaboration Between Workers

When team collaboration happens during the training process, it’s more likely to continue when workers are asked to apply what they have learned in a production environment. 

Leaders can facilitate this collaboration by encouraging the use of social channels to give all workers the opportunity to contribute, even asynchronously. Workers are eager to collaborate because they can make valuable contributions in a way that works for them.

Additionally, more collaboration happens as the result of social learning simply because there are more opportunities for it. The framework for collaboration is there, and team members find ways to engage with one another as a result.

Trainers can further encourage collaboration by offering training programs in social learning. This might involve delivering online or in-person training on the social and interactive features of the company’s learning management system.

Encouragement of Knowledge Sharing

Reskilling and upskilling are both important to applying social learning theory in the workplace. For example, corporate trainers can arrange webinars, “brown bag training sessions,” or other initiatives where people from various departments share important skills and information. 

Social learning encourages participants to share ideas and viewpoints with one another. The discussions that result from these efforts can help to polish and improve the new ideas until they’re refined enough to be useful in the workplace.

User-generated content is an important component of any workplace learning initiative. When workers share their knowledge, they may create guides, wikis, FAQs, manuals, and other valuable content that can be integrated into the company’s knowledge base. 

Implementing a social learning style in company training encourages valuable sharing on many levels.

Fits the Social and Learning Approach of the Modern Worker

Millennials make up 35% of the workplace. Gen-Z is currently lagging behind, but that will quickly change in the next few years. Before long, the vast majority of the workforce will be digitally native and have a strong preference for digital social engagement. Both of these characteristics make a social learning approach a perfect fit.

How Can You Nurture and Encourage Social Learning?

The good news is that companies with an infrastructure that includes an intuitive learning management system and collaborative tools are in a perfect position to encourage social learning.

Remember that social learning isn’t about implementing a formal training approach. Instead, it’s about building a framework and creating opportunities for people in the workplace to learn from one another. The following strategies are ideal for integrating social learning styles naturally:

Take Advantage of Internal Expertise

Identify the people within your business who are industry or subject matter experts. Then, create ways for them to provide information to others and for workers to approach them with questions and requests for information. 

Don’t gate-keep this expertise. Instead, ensure that their knowledge and insights are available to anybody with an interest in increasing their understanding. 

Since this level of expertise is often found in company leadership, this learning strategy will work best with buy-in from management. Experts must be willing to participate actively and consistently for it to work.

Create Forums and Discussion Groups

Consider implementing a company-owned digital discussion platform. Workers can use such a tool to engage in discussion and collaboration when working on projects. They can also reach out to peers to gather information and increase knowledge.

Prioritize the Company Knowledge Base

Many organizations have taken steps to implement a knowledge base. Unfortunately, these efforts often fizzle out, leaving companies with a knowledge base that’s incomplete or out of date. 

A powerful knowledge base can act as the cornerstone of a social learning culture. By encouraging everyone to contribute to the creation of an accessible repository of information, the benefits of knowledge sharing are accessible to everyone.

Normalize Asking Questions

Asking questions is one area in which company leaders can serve as an example to their teams. In many ways, asking questions and seeking clarification are central to learning socially. 

Unfortunately, not all workplace cultures are designed to encourage asking questions. However, leadership can take an active role in changing this by serving as examples and allowing themselves to be observed asking and answering questions of others.

Start Social Learning During the Onboarding Process

New employees should be introduced to the company’s social learning program from day one during the onboarding process. Give them access to any tools or platforms that have been implemented to encourage social learning. Also, inform them of any knowledge-sharing or mentoring opportunities.

Use Gamification to Reward Social Learning

Leaders can combine gamification with the social process of learning to improve engagement, give participants confidence, and keep people involved in the process when they’re struggling. 

Competition is an important component of social interaction. Adding elements of gamification in training can help with this. Workers receive motivation and rewards for participation and can compare their progress with others.

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Empower Everyone to Participate

Efforts to implement social learning must be inclusive. Otherwise, not all employees will benefit. It’s important to consider different learning and communication styles as well. 

Extroverted workers may feel immediately comfortable with sharing and demonstrating knowledge, while introverts may need encouragement or opportunities to participate in ways that put them at ease.  

Additionally, not everybody is comfortable with digital engagement. It’s important to include options that allow for face-to-face interactions, including video conferencing.

Create a Mentorship Program

Mentoring may be the most natural implementation of this learning methodology. It matches emerging talent with skilled and experienced team members. Mentees have a source for information and someone to answer their questions. Additionally, mentors can put into action the social learning theory behavior of modeling behavior and attitude.

Mentors are a great source of information and advice, and the right mentors will model the type of behavior you want your company to be known for. Putting employees directly in touch with managers and upper-level executives via a mentorship program will ensure staff members always have a place to ask questions, learn and grow. 

Further, upper-level executives know who is working for them and how their unique skills are valuable to the business as a whole.

Make Diversity a Priority

Social learning is most effective when it includes a variety of views, perspectives, and opinions. Differences are celebrated, and people are encouraged to present contradictory thoughts. 

These things all tend to be present in organizations that have prioritized inclusion and diversity training. People who come from different places and have varying socioeconomic backgrounds bring different experiences to the table.

Acquired diversity is also important to a learning environment that values social engagement. This is a type of diversity based on differing experiences rather than inherent diversity, which is generally based on innate traits. 

Workplaces that have both types of diversity are more likely to have workers who can learn from one another.

Add Learning Culture to Your Employee Value Proposition

Building a learning culture is a two-way street. Employees can only succeed at learning socially if they are naturally curious and want to learn new skills. At the same time, you need a culture of learning in place to attract employees who have those values.

If you haven’t already, reconceive your employee value proposition with this concept in mind. That way, you can communicate to prospective hires that you offer a workplace culture that prioritizes learning.

[FREE DOWNLOAD: How to Develop a Culture of Learning]

Encourage Social Connections

Close friendships are not a requirement for social learning, but connections are. Team members who feel familiar and comfortable with one another will be more likely to:

  • Share their talents and ideas
  • Ask questions of one another
  • Actively participate in webinars or other learning sessions
  • See the value in sharing information

Take steps to facilitate workers connecting with one another in person, virtually, and on social media.

Examples of Social Learning Style

What does social learning look like in the workplace? Here are a few examples that illustrate it.

First, social learning isn’t always about learning a specific skill. It’s also observing and adopting positive behaviors. Generally, this means seeing the behavior in action, witnessing a positive outcome, and integrating the same behavior. 

For example, when newer employees see senior staff members taking workplace safety precautions, they’re more likely to do the same.

You can also implement social learning to improve understanding and empathy. Imagine that the IT department has a detailed process for submitting help tickets. Other teams may find that frustrating and even resist following the process. 

However, if an expert from the IT team gave a brief webinar that covered exactly why the process was necessary and how to complete it easily, those other teams would gain empathy for the IT team’s needs and understand some best practices to complete the help ticket process.

Social learning also happens when team members engage with one another to exchange ideas or find solutions to problems. For example, a project team experiencing a roadblock could participate in a forum created specifically for that project. 

Participants would be free to workshop ideas and make suggestions geared toward moving the project to completion. The feedback could then be used in a team meeting to explore which items to implement.

Social Learning and Management

Since social learning is predicated on modeling positive behaviors, managers must create an environment that encourages those behaviors. To accomplish this, they must set equal expectations across the board. 

Social behaviors that are encouraged or discouraged must be applied evenly to staff members at every level in the organizational structure, taking into account that unconscious favoritism can sometimes be a problem. 

This learning method works best when positive behaviors are rewarded across the organization, and negative behaviors are not accepted.

Continu, the Ideal Platform for Social Learning

Social learning doesn’t depend on technology. However, with remote teams becoming the norm, it does take technology to deliver training and connect participants with one another. Additionally, when training teams have a reliable learning management system, they can focus on integrating social learning style.

Continu offers businesses the ideal training platform for implementing social learning to connect employees throughout the learning process.

Schedule a Demo Today

See Continu in action and how it can help your organization build a culture of learning.

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