Social Learning – what it is, how it works and how you can do it too

The 70:20:10 formula often referred to in Learning and Development maintains that 70% of knowledge is acquired through on-the-job experience, 20% from interactions with others, and 10% from formal education. It’s not necessarily a comprehensive learning model. But at the very least, this is a useful tool for reflecting on the balance and reach of your e-learning programs.

The way we learn

“..most learning is gained by people’s perception and thinking about what they experience. They learn by copying the examples of others around them.”  – Albert Bandura

People learn better when they are actively interacting with the world around them – completing tasks and learning from each other. The fact that most learning at work happens outside of formal learning structures is not new thinking. In 1977, the often-quoted Canadian born social learning theorist, Albert Bandura (1977) emphasized the importance of mimicry in learning. He highlighted the influence of environmental and cognitive factors on learning behavior and the significance of observing others, modelling our behaviors on those we observe, and imitating the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions of others. Bandura maps out four stages of learning:

  1. Attention – For a behavior to be mimicked, it must be noticed, so it has to be something we know will satisfy a need or that grabs our attention.
  1. Retention – To be remembered, a behavior needs to be associated with an experience in order to create a memory. So, applying the learning on the job to achieve an actual outcome helps us retain the learning in the long run. 
  1. Reproduction – We can only reproduce behaviors that are within our ability. If we can’t reproduce a behavior, we cannot fully learn it. The way we present information can sometimes lead to different outcomes. Creating content that caters to different learning modes (audio, visual, kinesthetic) can help learners absorb lessons more easily. 
  1. Motivation – Motivation is key to learning and is linked to reward. If we don’t perceive gain, we are unlikely to want to reproduce the behavior.

Another increasingly popular learning and development concept, learning in the flow of work, hinges on the understanding that people learn best on the job. This is learning in the real world, echoing Albert Bandura’s assertion that learning is informed by social systems and that we learn most effectively when we are observing, modelling, and mimicking. 

The relationship between social learning theory and tech

Social learning theory recognizes the role of personal agency – the fact that people learn best through interaction, and that we are naturally self-motivating and self-regulating. A contemporary learning and development program that uses social learning, is one that harnesses the power of tech, but recognizes that it is the people that build momentum. To inspire people to interact with an e-learning system on a regular basis, and of their own volition, to get them sharing knowledge and experience with each other and exchanging ideas, it’s a good idea to make it really accessible with a clear reward system.

The intranet was an earlier form of tech-enabled social learning and communications for organizations. Following an initial hiatus, engagement with intranets quite often fizzled out, often becoming a platform used primarily by communications teams and increasingly neglected by the wider pool of employees. This hasn’t always been the case of course. There are also success stories, but an intranet is first and foremost a communication and not a learning tool. Intranets just don’t have the 3-dimensional, inspirational, motivational, galvanizing qualities of a contemporary e-learning system. 

In this context, good tech enables the creation and embedding of dynamic social structures that encourage and support personal agency. It’s the people that make it work, but the tech makes it easy for them to do this – by being massively accessible and really easy to use; by facilitating bite-sized knowledge sharing; doing it in a way that is familiar (ie. works like social media); and by facilitating applied learning and repetition. Tech that taps into existing social systems, structures and behaviors maximises opportunities for learning. 

Traditional, computer-based e-learning platforms require learners to engage in what is essentially a solo activity. This lonely learning does not inspire, does not galvanize, and does not build momentum. On the other hand, giving people the opportunity to engage in meaningful interactions around specific topics and to form networks of learning and experience sharing, locks learners in and builds momentum. Such communities of practice underpin and embed a culture of social learning. 

A mobile-first digital learning platform harnesses the power of social, mimicking everyday behaviors and interactions – because we interact with our phones every day and on-the-go anyway. A mobile-first digital learning platform works outside of formal structures and, in so doing, makes learning more fun and accessible, enabling people to access information on a needs-basis, just as we would use Google, Twitter and Facebook in our daily lives. In this way a mobile LMS does not require us to learn new behaviors, but rather taps into existing behavioral modes.

5 tech-enabled social learning tools for your e-learning programs 

If people have the right tools, they’ll use them. There are lots of ways that you can implement social learning in your organization. Some choose to blend face-to-face with digitally enabled social learning techniques, but here are some ways that tech can help. 

1 Social stream is equivalent to a Facebook wall. Enabling people to share their experiences and successes. These interactions are also an effective way of transferring the tacit knowledge in your organization – helping people to learn from the experiences of their colleagues and peers.  

2 User generated content in the form of posts, videos and pictures, helps users take ownership of the learning platform, making the leap from a company-owned piece of software, to a tool managed by stakeholders, for stakeholders. We know from social media that when people share their experiences and successes, it encourages others to do the same. In this way, user generated content promotes inclusivity and reinforces good behaviors in others.

3 Groups are a great way to facilitate experience sharing and build momentum around specific topics and challenges. Groups can be open, essentially acting as social threads that anyone can join, or closed, bringing together a group of people around a shared topic of interest or problem to be solved. 

4 Reward systems such as badges, points and leader boards are hugely motivational. They tap into the reward systems in our brains and rewarded behaviors are more likely to be repeated. If humans are indeed self-motivating and self-regulating, then leaderboards fuel our need to know how we rank, how much better we could be, and how much more work we need to put in to get there. 

5 Feedback helps improve training and reinforces learning. With Motimate, users rate each Moti (course) once they have completed it, with the option to provide more detailed feedback too. Employers can use this feedback to understand which types of training and content different user groups find most useful. 

Talk to our experts!

If you would like to know more about how you can use a mobile-first e-learning system to harness the power of social learning, get in touch with us to have a chat and find out more.