Has Social Learning Grown Up?

growing up too fast(Image credit: twinpossible.com)

Over 64% of organizations are leveraging social learning in some fashion, based on Brandon Hall Group’s recentrelationship-centered learning survey. This finding has dramatically increased from several years ago, when the use of social learning was in single digits. Social learning has come into its own and is now a common form of learning used by many organizations.


Even though the number of organizations using social learning has increased dramatically in the last two years, we often still get the question: “What is Social Learning?” Exact definitions vary, but as social learning becomes a larger part of the learning landscape, a definition is helpful to pinpoint the role this invaluable learning method can provide.

Brandon Hall Group has defined social learning in this manner:


“Social Learning is a form of learning in which the learner acquires information, skills, and knowledge from interactions with both formal and informal members of a set group. The learning is affected by the act of learning in a group environment, and the actual learning becomes greater than the sum of individual learning parts.”


The two important parts of that definition are “how” the learning is taking place and with “whom.” Social learning takes place through group interactions and the learning itself will change due to those interactions. Social learning is about building something new. Take the following interaction:


“I hear a great story about creating innovative work methods, and I add to the conversation – sharing how that idea could be implemented in my own environment. Another person hears this idea, and it sparks her to recall a research study she saw last year on this topic and she shares it with the entire group. A long term veteran shares how this idea was tried two years ago in the organization and adds how he feels it can be altered to fit the culture better today.”


The previous dialogue could either be a hallway conversation or labeled as a social learning experience. It becomes a social learning experience when the organization enables the learner to take action on the dialogue and interactions, and connects those actions to a learning outcome.


The one thing you’ll notice that is missing from this definition is any mention of technology. Somewhere in the last ten years the concept of social learning has been blended with the technology used to support social learning in our highly connected society. Many organizations believe that simply implementing social media tools or using an LMS with social features such as a chat board denotes that they are conducting social learning. In reality, If the intended audience has not actually leveraged these tools to hold group discussions that drive further learning and spark growing conversations, then social learning has not taken place.  Effective social learning can be done in any environment – with or without technology.


The role of technology is to enable social learning and enhance its value to both the learner and the organization. Social learning technology can support and enhance social learning by:


  • Connecting learners in multiple locations
  • Tracking the history and outcomes of the social learning interactions
  • Providing ways to rate and prioritize social learning interactions and outcomes
  • Helping to evaluate the effectiveness of the social learning efforts in relation to the learning and business outcomes


Social learning is not a fad – but it is also not appropriate in every situation. It should be evaluated as a learning methodology, like all other learning methods. It is not appropriate for learning requirements that are very specific, compliance driven, or with a clear right or wrong answer. However, it is appropriate and very valuable when the learning outcomes require increased engagement and building a shared understanding that is more valuable than the initial individual thoughts. Social learning has become mainstream and a part of regular learning portfolios in many organizations. Take some time and reflect on your own social learning practices, and make sure they meet your expectations and the needs of your organization.

Read more: BrandonHall Group

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