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SOCIAL LEARNING: Social Training and Social Workforce Learning

A couple weeks ago we introduced you to the concept of social learning.  Although the concept has been around for over 60 years, workplace education is seeing a rebirth of this theory in recent years due to the explosion of social technologies.

Next week Michael and I will be presenting the concept of social learning and its immediate impact on the future workplace for the American Society for Training and Development.  To prepare for the event, we have talked with many people in the professional development field, challenged each other internally as a staff and read many reports and books on both theory and the practicality of social learning.  I’d like to take this post to share with you some of our insights.

Social learning is the idea that we learn and gain insight primarily through our social interactions with other people.  These people can be our co-workers, our managers, or even our spouses.  Research shows that 70% of learning and development takes place from real-life and on-the-job experience, tasks and problem solving; 20% of the time development comes from other people through informal and formal feedback, mentoring, or coaching; and only 10% of learning and development comes from formal training (*Robert Eichinger, Michael Lombardo).

With this concept in mind, I’d like to suggest that social learning is a very viable option for how we learn and develop in our professional careers.  Beyond our own personal benefit, social learning has been linked to increased growth and retention in organizations as well.  We can think of social learning in two main camps: social training and social workplace learning.

Social learning occurs as social training in the form of job instruction, on-the-job training or personal development (workshops/seminars/classes).  Usually training tends to be formal, classroom-oriented, and instructor-led.  Social training takes training a step further by introducing informal learning as a complimentary function.  We consider this the push method – learning, even at a social level, is being pushed upon the participant in informal ways.  These informal modes of learning are illustrated through workplace study groups after the workshop, filling out a survey to demonstrate training retention, answer a question and sparking a discussion weeks after training has occurred.  Social training is designed to help build competency in an area just like any other formal training would.   It is usually tracked, managed and monitored to facilitate maximum learning.

A great example of social training occurred with New Directions recently.  Looking for a unique way to develop a leadership program with a leading pharmaceutical company, we invited the classroom of aspiring leaders to join a virtual group through LinkedIn.  Before the class and after the class, participants were encourage to join the group to discuss articles, concepts, theories, and best practices in real time, with real peers.  Sometimes the instructors posted an article or provocative question, other times participants would post value-added content to the group.  Learning was occurring outside of the classroom.  This is social training – it’s taking the combination of the concepts that were instructor-led, and puts them in a social context for participants to comment, share, and gain insight from one another.

Social Learning also occurs as social workforce learning in the form of sharing, connecting, and collaborating not because an instructor has encouraged you to do so, but in a self-directed, self-managed, autonomous way.  Social workforce learning can manifest itself as we use social technology to collaborate with one another, gain greater information on a specific area, or to speed up a work process.  If you’re of the earlier generation you have seen this physically manifest itself as a younger generation has come in and used social technologies to expedite, improve, or collaborate in new, innovative ways to maximize their efficiency.  The tech generation has an amazing capability to gain quick information, poll friends, reach decision making at breathtaking speeds, and then repost that information and insight with their peers with three clicks of a button.

Social workforce learning is considered the pull method of social learning because it is not forced onto anyone, but is instead sought out for personal development at the most informal level.  Whereas social training is meant to build competency, social workforce learning is all about job enhancement.  Likewise social training is all about learning; social workforce learning is about doing one’s job better.  Both are social learning, just of a different nature.

As Michael and I were building this model (and we have to thank Jane Hart, Tony Bingham, Marcia Conner and many others for their beginning models), we came to the conclusion that whether its social training or social workforce learning all have to meet the requirements of the 4 channels of social learning which are research and gathering, creating and developing, communication and feedback, and collaboration and sharing.

Social learning has actually been happening without technology for many centuries (think Socrates and the Senate, the Salons of France and Italy, The taverns of the Revolutionary war, Speakeasies of the 1920s, and even our local barber shops).  The conversations have always happened, we’re just now experiencing a heightened sense of community, sharing and access because as some have put it, “we are now only six pixels of separation away from one another.”  A clear technical bent compared to the original six degrees of separation.

How does social learning fit with social technology?  The main buckets of social technology that support social learning include (but are not limited to): social networking platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn), Microsharing (Twitter, Texting), Social Bookmarking (Digg, Evernote), Filesharing (iCloud, SharePoint), Communication Tools (FaceTime, Smartphones), Blogging (WordPress, Blogger), Podcasting (iTunes), RSS Feed (GoogleReader,FlipBoard), Photosharing (Flickr, Animoto), Presentation Sharing (GoToMeeting), Video/Screencast Sharing (YouTube, Google’s Hangout), Community Space (Forums, Second Life).

Below is a model of what is described above.  As Jane Hart says in her book, Social Learning Handbook, “learning is no longer about waiting to be taught or trained, but about individuals having the power in their own hands to deal with their own learning problems much more quickly and efficiently than before.”  A common adage used around our office to represent the best managers and leaders is using the right bait to suit the fish.  Each fish is different and likes certain kinds of bait – a great fisherman uses different bait depending on what fish he desires to catch.  The same is true with employees; we need to use the right educational platforms that help our employees learn the best.  Taking that adage a step further, imagine a work environment where you no longer need as much bait because employees are developing and learning on their own.  It’s not unrealistic to think that we are entering a time of hybrid learning where formal and informal, social and instructor-led all form together to create a learning renaissance.



Questions to think about:

– Is your organization beginning to embrace and adapt to the paradigm change around
social learning or are you thinking it has no place in the workplace?

– How is your organization guiding the social learning workplace, or are you crossing
your fingers that it will all work out okay?

– Are their social learning activities that could be used in your organization if
someone took the initiative to make it happen?

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