Social learning happens every day in the workplace. Stop and think for just a minute about the discussions you have had over the last week with co-workers and peers. Did you learn anything you didn’t know before those conversations? Whether you realized it at the time or not, you engaged in socialized learning.
Humans are naturally social beings. This alone makes social learning a valuable method for sharing knowledge within your organization. Everywhere you look, there are opportunities to improve and influence how socialized learning happens in your organization.
This article will explore the benefits of learning through socialized methods and ways to improve their performance.
Social learning is the continual process of adopting new behaviors either through observing or imitating others. It is a learning theory originally proposed by psychologist Albert Bandura in 1977 and is considered one of the earliest learning methods.
We can see social learning theory at work in young children as they imitate older siblings or parents. It is also a valuable theory for learning and development (L&D) leaders to leverage when working with adults. Some of the biggest advantages of social learning in the workplace are that it is easily deployed, effective and fosters an environment of collaboration and mentoring.
It is hard to deny that mobile phones and other portable devices have improved learning speed. Social learning builds on this and makes access to information at the point of need easier. The last time you had a question at work, how did you find the answer?
Many of us would opt for sending a quick email instead of dusting off the training manual. Reaching out to co-workers or supervisors for feedback is a big part of social learning. Having the new person on your team reach out to a more experienced peer for information is good.
However, if that more experienced peer is struggling, you probably don’t want them influencing your newbie. As you might expect, statements like “the training manuals say to do it this way, but my way is faster” could do more harm than good.
Another way social learning happens is online. If you have a computer, you’ve probably used Google as the starting point for conducting research. Google and hundreds of other search engines have simplified the process of doing research.
On the other hand, there should be a buyer beware disclaimer at the top of every search result. It is critical to fact-check and verifies the information your team is getting comes from credible sources. Like getting bad advice from a peer, you don’t want data from satire websites or fake social media accounts.
Encouraging instant and continuous learning in the workplace is essential. It is likely your employees can easily find information by utilizing online materials and communicating with peers. However, as an L&D leader, you want to be intentional about who, what, and where everyone is getting their information.
First, take time to curate a list of online resources and team members you know will provide good information. Second, keep those resources, including website URLs, updated regularly. Finally, follow up to identify the questions being asked more frequently.
Let the team tell you what additional support may be needed to quickly get newer employees up to speed.
We just talked about the benefit of learning from peers, but there’s more. One of the most significant benefits of social learning is learning with a broader group of experienced L&D professionals. Being able to share knowledge collaboratively can help everyone apply different experiences and perspectives for their purposes.
“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
A big part of social learning is the ability to apply new knowledge to current work. Leveraging a variety of experiences gives your team more options and will help your team function more effectively. Different members of the group might share several effective ways to approach the same situation.
Through social learning, everyone can evaluate these approaches and determine the right one for them. The key is to ensure the learning group is helpful and productive.
As an L&D leader, be intentional about how you create these groups. Take time to consider each person’s experience carefully and expertise, and encourage your team to spend time networking to gain additional perspective. You can also incorporate other departments within the group if the opportunity exists to do so.
Social learning in groups, over time, will help everyone feel more comfortable sharing their experiences and coaching others. By creating opportunities for social learning in groups, you will create a more collaborative work environment.
As we mentioned earlier, incorporating learning at the point of need is necessary. However, the ability of the L&D department to be available for every question is unrealistic. Social learning enables your department to utilize outside resources to improve performance and allows for ongoing educational experiences.
- Participation in learning groups
- Accessing online information
- Direct communication with peers
As an L&D leader, there are a lot of factors to consider when deciding how to improve performance. Usually, one of those factors is how to juggle multiple priorities when it comes to providing resources across the organization. When providing resources, the ability to rely on curated lists, learning groups, and peer-to-peer communication helps tremendously.
Social learning can be both formal and informal. YouTube videos, Slack chats, and networking are a few examples of informal social learning. Mentor programs, employee resource groups, and job shadowing are more formal options that can provide the same access to learning for your workforce. Incorporating direct supervisors in the ongoing development of these resources allows you to focus on other priorities.
Take advantage of these options as they offer great learning opportunities with minimal impact on your daily responsibilities list. By advocating for these types of learning experiences, you spread responsibility for ongoing development across the organization.
In summary, social learning happens everywhere, all the time. As an L&D leader, you should be using these learning experiences intentionally. By leveraging the social knowledge that occurs naturally in the workplace, you can ensure accessibility, collaboration, and efficiency.
Hopefully, after reading, you have a few more ideas about enhancing the social learning experiences happening across your organization.
Do you currently utilize social learning in your organization? How do you incorporate it into your learning and development plan? Your expertise makes a difference; share your thoughts with me!
Originally published November 20, 2017, updated April 23, 2021.