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Leveraging Social Learning For Performance And Learning Enablement

June 6, 2023 | By Matt Pittman


Leveraging Social Learning For Performance And Learning Enablement

In our recently published 2023 Learning and Development Benchmarking Survey, Brandon Hall Group™ found nearly one-third of our respondents already own social learning or collaborative learning platforms.

Additionally, social learning platforms easily topped the list of technologies our respondents were planning to spend their learning budget on, with 33% indicating they were looking to buy within the next 12 months. Social/peer-to-peer learning was also ranked among the top six instructionally effective learning modalities (out of 24). Clearly, social learning has moved into the mainstream and has been embraced by the L&D community. What’s driving this rapid uptake?

While social learning itself has been with humanity since the dawn of evolution, the technologies used to extend social learning remotely are of far more recent vintage. Social learning largely exists outside of the confines of the L&D organization — anytime one employee taps another on the shoulder and asks a question, social learning is already happening. The goal of today’s learning organizations is to channel social or peer-to-peer learning primarily in two ways:

  • To enrich and enable formal learning, and
  • To enable job performance through the sharing and capture of critical best practices, work examples and insights from those who are already proficient or elite performers.

Formal learning, whether in-person or remote, can add peer-based activities to help stretch the limited capabilities of the instructor and offer learners a chance to interact with and learn together with their peers or cohorts. In the case of digital, self-directed learning, remote forums can be added to allow geographically dispersed learners and others to ask and respond to questions, peer-review course work and provide general guidance. Many learning management systems now offer the capability to launch eLearning courses with a socially enabled wrapper. In an era when so many workers are remote, this type of collaborative space helps improve completion rates and lets learners know they can reach out for support and shared camaraderie in their self-driven learning efforts.

Where organizations are finding exceptional value is in creating and moderating work- or job-specific social communities. These include communities of practice, job-related discussion groups and Ask-the-Expert forums. These are informal communities, typically moderated by one or more subject matter experts or experienced staff members. A well-run community of practice serves to capture the knowledge and experience of elite performers, and make it accessible to those who are less experienced. Content may include answers to specific questions, links to helpful information, work samples, best practices and “war stories.”

Ask-the-Expert forums are a somewhat unique community that is especially valuable in large enterprises where it is difficult to know whom to contact about, for instance, a particular product or service. A user can select a product-focused Ask-the-Expert, reach out to the product manager (without even knowing his or her name) associated with that forum and ask a question about the product. The product manager can then post the answer and make it available not only to the one who asked it originally but to anyone else who may be searching for similar information. The expert saves time by answering the question only once (as opposed to fielding multiple emails and calls about the same question) and the answer is available to all who have access to the forum.

User-generated content is another rapidly growing aspect of social learning. Many learning platforms, both LMSs and LXPs, now allow employees or designated users to create curated learning pathways using resources both internal and external to a company. What organizations have found is that elite performers tend to curate excellent learning pathways for their own benefit and that sharing these pathways (sometimes referred to as “learning playlists”) benefits others in the organization as well.

Social learning allows L&D organizations to harness learning content and valuable input from non-L&D team members, thereby extending the capabilities of what is often a resource-limited department. In fact, through social learning, elite performers often can provide learning and expertise that L&D simply can’t. Additionally, social learning capabilities provide an element of engagement that may be missing in remotely-delivered content.

Brandon Hall Group™ SmartChoice® Platinum Preferred Provider EI Powered by MPS is a global full-service provider of cutting-edge learning content, learning support services, consulting and technology. EI offers both a selection of training strategy services and the consulting expertise to help ensure your learning initiatives can best leverage social learning approaches and technology.

Matt Pittman
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