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How You Can Use Social Learning To Engage Your Learners

February 6, 2017 | By Asha Pandey


Social Learning to engage your learners

Although the social learning phenomenon is catching up, many in the learning sphere are not sure of its impact owing to misconceptions around it and lack of data to showcase its impact. This article outlines how you can use social learning effectively to engage your learners.

How Can You Use Social Learning To Engage Learners?

In simple terms, social learning is learning with and from others and is not bound by a specific type of learning. Social learning could be anything – acquiring knowledge about something when discussing casually with your friends or colleagues, during a conversation with a co-passenger on a flight, or even learning when browsing and interacting with folks on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on. So, how can you use social learning?

This kind of learning -triggered by collaboration- is never short of positive impact. The social media phenomenon has revolutionized the way people perceive things and go about their everyday lives. The impact has spilled over to pretty much everything and if it is not leveraged upon for learning, Learning and Development professionals have only themselves to blame.

What Are The Misconceptions Surrounding Social Learning?

There are several misconceptions surrounding social learning and I pick a few of them:

  1. A new concept – not tried and tested.
    While the buzz on adoption of social learning by organizations is new, the social learning concept has been there for over five decades now. The current dynamics (advent of social media channels, technology, and changing learner profiles) have accelerated its adoption by organizations now.
  2. It appeals only to Millennials.
    While it certainly appeals to Millennials, social learning is as relevant to all other learner profiles as well.
  3. Works on social media channels but cannot be used to provide serious learning.
    While social media channels can certainly be used for social learning, there is a need to have custom platforms supported by a clear learning strategy if you want to meet specific learning outcomes.
  4. It is fun and not structured so it just cannot create the required impact.
    Social learning provides Learning and Development teams with another channel to offer learning. However, the desired impact is in direct proportion to the learning strategy you put in place.

Why Does Social Learning Work And Why Does It Make Sense To Adopt It?

Social learning as such is not a new concept. It has been part of our learning mechanism all through and there are several theories to support this claim. The 70/20/10 Model for Learning and Development, social learning theory, and Active Learning theory in particular make a great case for social learning.

You can refer to my article Why You Should Adopt Social Learning to know more about how these theories establish the need to integrate social learning components in corporate training and how social learning can benefit learners and organizations alike.

But if this doesn’t sound convincing enough to consider social learning as part of your learning strategy, you’d want to take a look at these facts and stats:

    • Social learning approaches have a 75:1 ROI ratio over web-based training (Association for Talent Development).
    • 82% of businesses that use Social technology want to use them in the future (Accenture).
    • The course completion rates shot up to 85% on HBX, a Harvard Business School online education initiative with the introduction of social learning, way better than online-only MOOCs (Harvard Business Review).
    • Cisco’s use of social learning to support its transition to a global services organization saw a 98% employee adoption rate in the first year with 80% of learning content socially generated (Chief Learning Officer).
    • According to a Stanford research, 45% of their physicians benefited from social learning in a medical photo-sharing app for doctors as a patient care related study aid (Stanford Medicine).
    • 73% of the surveyed companies expected to increase their focus on social learning and more than 60% wanted their employees to interact with learning resources on a daily basis (Brandon Hall Group).
    • AMD, a semiconductor manufacturing company, says their shift to social learning strategy saves more than USD 250,000 per year in web based training production costs (Kenexa).
    • Villeroy & Boch, a large manufacturer of ceramics, deployed a social learning framework for their training courses resulting in a 32% increase on Average Transaction Value with +19% sales in Japan (Curatr).

How Can You Use Social Learning?

You can look at social learning through a larger prism – that of a “Learning and Performance Ecosystem“. You can bring in a combination of various kinds of learning, blending formal and informal learning, and supplement your learning with social learning and Performance Support elements. This will provide your learners with more options and ways to learn and experience “learning as a continuum”.

Learning and Performance Ecosystem - EI

Learners like learning in different ways. Their preferences differ from one another. Providing them with a platform such as this with multiple options to learn will increase the likelihood of the learning appealing to the learning style of different learners. Besides, this approach will help you not just achieve the required levels of acquisition and application of knowledge on the job but a positive return on investment on your training.

Case Study – Our Internal Social Learning Portal

At EI, we offer customized social learning platforms for our customers. I share a case study that shows how we have adopted social learning to promote several initiatives.

As an example, I showcase how the platform helped our employees learn about the processes that we need to follow in our organization.

The Objective

We built this platform to foster a collaborative work environment, fuel interactions between team members, create communities of learning and practice, and provide a medium to our employees to receive on-the-job support.

The Impact

The platform has enabled our employees to:

    • Feel free to seek help from their peers, anytime they want.
    • Receive on-the-job support.
    • Collaborate with members of other teams.
    • Learn about our processes and other organization-related learning topics in a simplified, informal way.
    • Be more aware of what’s happening in the organization and what members of other teams have been doing.
    • Foster a collaborative work culture with a personalized touch.
    • Enrich their knowledge and learn new skills to help them in their job.

The Features

1. An element of personalization.

Employees can upload their photo, customize their account, provide a description about themselves, and make personal details (such as their birthday, address, Facebook URL, Twitter URL, etc) known to others.

2. The concept of “Spaces”.

    • Users can create Spaces, which are used for focused discussions that can be moderated to meet specific outcomes.
    • For example, we have a space called Process, where employees can share their views about the process steps, ask questions or seek clarifications with regard to clarity on any of the process steps, and so on. This helps our employees collaborate to get on-the-job support thereby bringing in greater efficiency and reducing time.
    • The owner of the space can invite other users and make it public.
    • Under each space, we can have additional channels to learn and share, such as:
      • Wikis.
      • Tasks.
      • Polls.
      • Files.

3. Employees can share videos, pictures, their thoughts, or web content on their timeline (similar to Facebook).

Furthermore, they can:

    • Comment.
    • Like.
    • Follow (User to User, User to Space, User to Content).
    • Mention other users.
    • Tag other users.
    • Make use of the Embed Support (share YouTube and other web links which will be easily embedded in the platform).

4. Collaboration and engagement.

    • Each asset shared by users comes with the option of Like and a Discussion thread that brings in the required focus to the concept we want them to evaluate or learn.
    • The diversity of our workforce helps employees get newer and fresher perspectives to the different topics and discussions and helps them learn things which they would otherwise have not been able to learn.
    • Employees also get to learn from each other and make the best use of each other’s varying skill sets, experience, views, and so on.
    • Employees can make friends with other users and follow them. They can go to the Directory and search for people and send them a friendship invitation. They can also use the Directory to look for Spaces and enroll themselves in the Space of their choice.
    • They can send mails to other users on the platform.
    • They will get notifications for invitation to a new group, when they receive a new mail, and so on.

You can also view this video to see how we have used our social learning platform to bring about greater engagement in our employees.

As you see from this case study, we have successfully established several communities where learning, knowledge sharing, and further value-adds (like further enrichment through contributions by other users) happen. The communities are managed by learners giving them the required control and ownership to propagate learning with peers.

I hope this article provides the required insight on social learning and how you can use it to engage your learners. If you have any specific queries, do contact me at apandey@eidesign.net.

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