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Making the most of social learning in the workplace

Without a doubt, there’s been a significant increase in the amount of discussion regarding learning in the workplace. While the actual content being taught is obviously important, what’s almost even more important is how it’s being taught.
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Courtney Norton, Content Writer
2022-03-17

Without a doubt, there’s been a significant increase in the amount of discussion regarding learning in the workplace. While the actual content being taught is obviously important, what’s almost even more important is how it’s being taught. Businesses are asking themselves questions like: ‘how can we help participants to be focused while learning?’ and ‘how can we assist with knowledge retention after the learning has taken place?’ 

One of the solutions that has proven to be very successful and has a growing focus in the modern workplace is a concept called: ‘social learning’.  

At Go1, we’re committed to integrating systems that seek to make the practise of social learning more streamlined and efficient. That is why we have developed apps for Microsoft Teams, Workplace from Meta which are available for use by Go1 customers and Slack currently in beta. 

What is social learning? 

The term ‘social learning’ was pioneered by psychologist Albert Bandura. It theorises that, “people learn from one another through observation, imitation and modelling.”  

Social learning isn’t just a ‘theory’ that some guy came up with, there’s real neuroscience behind it! Neuroscience research conducted in the late 1990s found that neurons in the brains of monkeys fired up when they watched each other do an activity like cracking open a peanut. These neurons, known as mirror neurons, regulate the part of the brain that then imitates that same behaviour. 

The idea is very similar to how babies and young children learn from watching adults speak and behave. While we do get older and mature, our human nature doesn’t change as much as we may think! 

How do you do it? 

It’s no good just to put everyone together in a room, make them talk and call it ‘social learning’. There are specific techniques, that, while they sound simple, can make an incredible difference to the social learning experience. 

Online learning collaboration tool, Slack, divides the process for how to effectively conduct social learning into three stages: community building, collaborative problem solving and collective accountability.  

Community building 

The first stage (community building) is designed to create a culture of sharing and collaboration. In a recent report conducted by Udemy for Business, the importance of weaving in the building of trust and relationships within social learning was strongly emphasised. Ensuring that trust is a major part of social learning creates a safe environment for people to share ideas as well as to give and receive feedback. 

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Realising the importance of community building and actually putting it into practise can feel like two distinct challenges. To help get the ball rolling, Udemy for Business suggests beginning with a shared agreement that will help to moderate the space, followed by some fun introductory questions to get to know as many people as possible. The goal with this is that everyone’s voices will be heard and participants will begin to realise they all face similar challenges.  

Another major thing to consider when in the community building stage of social learning is that the modern workplace operates both online and offline. Effective social learning needs to account for both, particularly with many people working from home at least part, if not all of the time. By including multiple modalities like in-person workshops, virtual videos and social media channels, everyone is able to be included and social learning is given the best chance for success. 

Collaborative problem solving 

After creating the culture of sharing in the Community Building stage, it’s time to put that to good use in the next stage of social learning: Collaborative Problem Solving. Collaborative problem solving is where all the power of social learning lies. It’s where participants are able to develop solutions to common problems that they face in their day-to-day roles. 

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There are a number of awesome ways to get the collaborative problem solving started that effectively combine both online and offline participation. The first involves creating a dedicated social channel, on something like Teams, Slack or Workplace, for the training before it begins. Participants are invited to introduce themselves in that channel and then mention a challenge that they are currently working on. By doing this, these real challenges can be incorporated into the training rather than exclusively using hypothetical scenarios. 

If the social learning is taking place in workshop form, whether that be in person or via video conference, focusing on role-playing communication can be extremely beneficial. However, rather than role playing in the jobs that they’re familiar with, switching it up and deliberately assigning employees to roles outside of their jobs, is an excellent way to prompt out of the box thinking. By doing this, training leaders are creating opportunities for discussion and reflection, whether that be post-workshop discussion in person/on a video call or a discussion thread after the workshop. 

Collective accountability 

The third and final stage of Slack’s approach to social learning is Collective Accountability. When participants are able to come together and commit to how they’re going to implement the new knowledge and skills they learnt in training, it acts as a form of motivation. It’s much easier to stay motivated when you know that there are others working towards the same goal as you are. 

Like a New Year’s resolution where you vow to go to the gym or quit smoking or eat more healthily, having an accountability partner is another excellent tactic for social learning. It provides an additional opportunity for discussion of shared challenges as well as motivation. When we see others doing well, it encourages us to do well too! 

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The importance of social learning will undoubtedly be even further highlighted as we continue into a world where working from home is becoming a new normal and Slack’s three stage approach breaks it down into far more manageable pieces. There are definitely some things to keep in mind with social learning and the sharing culture that comes with it so it doesn’t accidentally become a group therapy session.

The most important thing is that there should always be a purpose for the sharing, whether that be a pressing deadline or new work topic. In this context, sharing for the sake of sharing is not necessarily helpful to the overall social learning purpose. To assist with this, both online and offline spaces should have a facilitator and a moderator to ensure the sharing is kept on track.  

Udemy for Business argues that “the greatest indicator of success in social learning is whether or not people come back”. By working through Slack’s 3 stage approach and working to avoid common pitfalls of sharing culture, we are far more likely to see participants returning for another round of social learning. As a result, we’re setting up our workplaces with the best chance of successful social learning. 

If you’d like to learn more about social learning, check out this course on the Go1 platform from Skilla: Digital Social Learning. If you're interested in the Go1 Content Hub for your organisation's wellbeing and L&D goals, please get in touch with us today.    

Go1 helps millions of people in thousands of organizations engage in learning that is relevant, effective and inspiring.
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