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SOCIAL LEARNING: The Shifting Paradigm of Learning Using Social Technology

One of the exciting new disciplines in the industry of education and learning (both institutionally as well as in the workplace), is this notion of social learning through new technology.  The idea of social learning has actually been around for over 60 years.  Social learning theory was originally derived from the works of Albert Bandura who proposed that social learning occurred in four main stages of imitation: close contact, imitation of superiors, understanding of concepts, and role model behavior. At its core, social learning suggests that we can enhance our ability to learn and be educated not only through instructor-led courses and classes, but also through our social interactions with others.  In fact, only 10% of all the learning that we do is through instructor-led trainings and classes (what we would call Formal or Classical Learning); the other 90% of our learning comes from social and experiential interactions like discussions with others, sharing and collaborations, on the job training, as well as participating in small groups (all of these would fit under the style of Informal Learning).

As workplace learning has evolved from completely instructor-led, in-person classes to the e-learning period of the 90s and early 2000s, we are now facing another evolutionary change in workplace learning with the advent of socially enhancing tools.  At this point, it is a pretty safe statement that social technologies (social networks, blogs, mobile devices, and collaborative platforms) are more than a fad and will be sticking around for the foreseeable future.  At this point Facebook has 900 million users, Twitter processes over 200 million tweets a day, and if Wikipedia was made into a book it would be 2.25 million pages long.  Most recently addressed in a Fast Company Magazine’s October edition, all the major players in technology (Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Google) have publicly announced the death of the personal computer as more people move to mobile connectivity (iPad, smartphones).  Social media and the adjacent platforms are here to stay, but how do they lend themselves to enhancing our learning capacity?

When we begin to look at the social technologies that could enhance our ability to socially learn, Jane Hart in her book, The Social Learning Handbook, describes these categories as the general areas of possibility:


Over the next few months, we will feature a series of blogs on this notion of social learning through new technologies.  The American Society for Training and Development has added social learning to their formal doctrine of workplace learning (download article) while we, as a firm, physically see more and more companies embracing these social tools to enhance their workforces’ performance.  It’s also safe to assume that the social and technological sophistication of the new workforce (heavily featured in Generation Y) will expect this integration of social tools in their workplace almost as commonplace.  In the coming months, we hope we can provide some clarity and insight around what it truly means to socially learn through these new technologies.

In a very practical example, just last week Michael and I were training a group of high school educators on the idea of social media.  As a way to wrap up the session we introduced this notion of social learning.  It was amazing to see the mostly positive response to the notion and the general consensus of “finally a practical and beneficial use for social media!”  I was most excited to hear this story from a young educator who was getting her Master’s at night.  While she had to drive over an hour away to go to class a couple nights a week, she still had a responsibility to prepare her students for the upcoming SAT test.  She ended up setting up a system every night where she would tweet on Twitter right before her night class a new SAT question for her students to answer.  Each of her students would go on to Twitter, get their nightly SAT question, answer it, and have it ready for the educator in the morning.  The educator had set up a system where she was still able to teach her students while being away from her classroom and they did it in a very social way.  The other unintended result was that this educator was meeting her students where they were – on the medium from which they preferred to learn.   This is the evolution that is coming to education and learning.  Are we ready for it?

Continue the concept and download our FREE article on Social Learning: Social Training and Social Workforce Learning.







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An innovative training and employee development firm located in southern Vermont since 1984, we specialize in helping organizations get the most out of their people by raising the bar, inspiring potential and partnering with organizations to build a people-centered, high-engagement culture.

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