Now that we live our lives with smartphone in hand, social interaction is part of our everyday lives in realtime. This level of connectivity is quickly making its way into how organizations operate, and L&D is no exception. Social learning is nothing new, but current events provide the perfect opportunity to cement its place in your learning program.
Social learning has always existed in the workplace. Co-workers learn from each other in on-the-job interactions, in meetings, and in informal training settings all the time. In fact, it’s estimated that social learning accounts for 75% of the knowledge employees attain in the organization. What has changed, however, is L&D’s ability to guide social learning, expand its reach, and provide environments that optimize the benefits of collaborative learning.
Remote employees and globally dispersed teams can benefit the most from new digital methods of social learning. So, whether you opt for blogs, online forums, Q&A video sessions with subject matter experts, or purpose-built tools, social learning can bridge the gap between remote workers and their colleagues.
But how can social learning benefit your training program? And what’s the particular relevance for remote workforces?
1. Self-Directed Learning
Self-directed learning means allowing the individual to identify their own learning needs, choose their learning format and resources, and to evaluate their own learning outcomes. Organizations have been finding ways to empower learners to take a more self-directed approach to learning as it increases learner engagement and performance.
In fact, workers who take control of their own learning are 74% more likely to have direction in their career and 47% more likely to feel their work has purpose.
Social learning provides an environment where employees can trade knowledge in the moment of need, share useful resources, and actively improve knowledge directly related to their job performance. While this may have happened on-the-job previously, organizations must now find a way to facilitate this digitally.
A good example of a digital social learning environment is the website stackoverflow.com. This website is dedicated to allowing web developers of all abilities to ask questions related to their work. Other developers can answer threads, offer opinions and potential solutions, and trade knowledge with ease. It’s a perfect example of how social learning can speed up knowledge transfer and performance improvement by allowing learners to learn what they need, when they need it, and in a self-directed way.
2. Minimal Interruption
While executives would like employees to spend more time on training, it’s no secret that the workforce has increasingly less time to spend on training on a weekly basis. In a 2019 Training Industry report, the research found that employees spent 42.1 hours on training per year. That figure was down from 46.7 hours the previous year.
Social learning provides the opportunity to learn when it suits them without the bigger interruption of scheduled 1+ hour training sessions in a traditional instructor-led environment. Learning can take place on-the-job and in the flow of their daily work.
Plus, now that Zoom calls are filling up our calendars in place of informal in-person discussions in the office, any way that L&D can facilitate learning without carving more time out of employees’ work hours is a win. Learn more about where L&D is headed in 2021 and beyond from an expert panel in this on-demand webinar recording.
3. Cross-Departmental Knowledge Sharing
Although many people have felt the effects of working-from-home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, social learning also helps to bridge the gap between dispersed teams.
Many employees can learn so much from their colleagues in teams across the country, or indeed, across the globe. So, facilitating social learning online provides the opportunity for the entire organization to share knowledge, access top SMEs, and learn from each other.
4. Increased Engagement
Instructor-led training sessions, no matter how skilled the instructor, are formal. Many people may sit through these sessions and learn passively, but the introverted among us may be less inclined to speak up and ask questions in these types of settings.
Social learning, on the other hand, is informal by definition. Passive learners may find it easier with this more relaxed style of learning to enter into discussions and offer opinions or ask questions. This is especially true in an online forum-style environment where discussions can be had through text rather than speaking directly to each other.
Even if instructor-led sessions are still part of your learning program, social learning provides learners with a place for follow-up discussion to cement and expand the ideas learned in formal training.
5. Continuous Collaboration Culture
Collaboration is the cornerstone of any effective organization in today’s agile and dynamic markets. But collaboration takes more than working together in-person, especially in a time when that has become impossible for many teams that are working from home.
The team that learns better together, works better together. Social learning can facilitate collaboration between learners and support an overall culture of collaboration throughout the company.
Initiating social learning may start slow and take some promotion on the part of L&D. But once you get it off the ground, you’ll be surprised how willing employees are to engage and the benefits it will bring.
Subject matter experts (SMEs) are integral to the development of valuable social learning experiences. Check out this toolkit to see how you can work more effectively with your VIP SMEs:
Toolkit: The Secret Formula for Working With SMEs