Workplace training E-learning

9 minute read

Better Together: 6 Benefits of Social Learning in the Workplace

Sara Meij

Sara Meij

Think about the first week you spent in a new role. Did you learn the most from the official training you received in that week, or do you more vividly remember what your coworkers taught you between induction training sessions?

Those golden nuggets of information you learned from your coworkers is social learning in action. Social learning is a powerful tool that you can integrate into your employee training strategy, whether you’re using online or offline methods. It’s a good match with different learning styles, and has a number of benefits for both employees and your organization.

Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of social learning, and how it can enhance your training programs. 

woman smiling while using laptop for social learning

What is social learning?

Social learning is based on a theory by psychologist Albert Bandura that learning is a cognitive process that takes place in a social context and happens only through observation or direct instruction.

Informal, social learning is estimated to make up to 75% of learning within organizations. Learning through self-reflection, or from colleagues, supervisors, and mentors all form part of a well-rounded development strategy. 

Social learning bridges the gap between knowledge and behavior change. From a business point of view, social learning means that learning among employees continues far beyond the formal training session. It’s key if you want to create a “social learning” culture within your organization.

In the words of Albert Einstein,

Learning is an experience, everything else is just information.

Why you should use social learning in your workplace

People often learn from watching someone else do something or acting out particular behavior. This is called vicarious learning. Through observing others, we learn how to do something and what the consequences of doing it may be. This is how we learned most things when we were little; falling flat on our faces and getting back up every time.

But here’s the crux, just watching someone do something doesn’t mean you’ll retain that information and end up learning something from it. Knowing what to do or how to do it isn’t enough.

To learn from observation, we need to pay attention, memorize the behavior that’s being modeled, and practice it. And we have to be motivated to do so and to take on the newly learned behavior. Our self-esteem also influences the success of social learning, as well as how we feel about the person modeling the behavior. Remember, social learning does not mean your team has to be face-to-face - it is just as effective when using online methods. 

In short, these four principles are key: 

Attention

Your employees will learn better if they believe the task at hand is novel or different, and a social learning context reinforces those perceptions.

Retention

We learn by internalizing information, and we recall the information we learned when we’re faced with a similar situation to what we learned that information in.

Reproduction

Practicing behavior, skills, and knowledge learned through mental and physical rehearsal makes it easier to use the newly learned skills when required.

Motivation

We need to be motivated to do anything in life, otherwise, nothing happens and no progress is made. When trying to retain new information, it helps employees to know what the rewards are when they’ve done something well, and what the consequences are if they don’t succeed.

two students learning together

Social learning will be more about helping employees and less about delivering content when it’s viewed in terms of how it can engage employees. A well-rounded training and development strategy for your organization and employees could include formal training opportunities, such as classroom-based training, interactive training, or online training. 

As gamification or game-based learning develops, more collaborative games are on the rise where it’s impossible to win without a concentrated team effort. That means learners will have to share the information they’re being provided with in order to progress as a team. That, in turn, encourages a culture of knowledge and skill-sharing within your organization.

Benefits of social learning to your business and employees

Forward-thinking organizations are driving engagement with their learning and development opportunities, and leveraging social learning with e-learning content is the way forward. When done well, it can lead to increased engagement, positive growth in job and organizational performance, more collaboration, and sharing of ideas to solve problems. 

After all, online learning is often driven by management or outsourced training experts, not your employees. Adding social learning to the mix can provide more balance, higher engagement and a more collaborative way of learning. 

A few of the key benefits of social learning for employees, and the organization, are:

More communication

Through asking questions and testing solutions on real-life problems, employees learn a new procedure most effectively. There’s little to no barrier to learning new information when you can ask a question at any time, instead of having to wait for training sessions to progress. 

A preferred way of learning for millennials

Retaining millennial employees isn’t a small feat. According to Gallup, 60% of millennials in the workforce are open to a new job opportunity right now, and they are more likely to switch jobs more frequently than previous generations. 

Millennials appreciate non-traditional learning methods, such as online learning, microlearning, video training, and interactive training. Their attention spans are shorter, and they move from one form of learning to another. Social learning makes it easier for them to keep learning without being distracted and to retain information. 

woman learning with coworker online

Learning in their own time

Your employees will all have different styles of learning and it’s unlikely they’ll learn at the same pace. By having coworkers around to answer particular questions that might come up as and when they do, and by having access to online training when they need it, your employees will be able to learn at their own pace. 

With the GoSkills LMS, employees can learn together and at their own pace, focusing on whichever skills are needed most at that time. They can share their profiles to show completed courses and showcase what areas they’re experts in, which makes it easier for coworkers to figure out who to direct questions to.

More collaboration

It’s easy to incorporate social technology into social learning, making it more accessible to a wider variety of employees. Some of your employees might be shyer than others and less likely to ask coworkers' questions. With the use of social channels, such as the intranet or team communication tools, they have the opportunity to contribute to the conversation without making them feel uncomfortable or out of their comfort zone.

The benefits of social learning aren’t just for employees. Organizations implementing social learning as part of their training strategy can reap the rewards too:

Shortens the onboarding time for new hires

From day one, new employees can get answers to questions from their coworkers at any time. Scheduled training can also happen at any time so your new hires don’t have to wait for induction training before they can be productive.

Skill sharing and better use of existing talents

Soft skills are often overlooked, and not usually the ones employees put on their resume. But if your organization used an LMS such as GoSkills, not only can you take advantage of ready-made soft skills online courses, you can zone in on skill-sharing across the board and use skill-mapping to show which skills are on hand. That makes it easier for employees to find coworkers with specific skills to help solve problems.

coworkers learning together

To wrap up

With social learning estimated to make up to 75% of learning within organizations, including it in your learning and development strategy is paramount. Learning through self-reflection, or from colleagues, supervisors, and mentors, makes it easier for employees to retain new information. Especially when it’s implemented in addition to other training opportunities such as microlearning, face-to-face instruction, or video training. The great thing about social learning is that it’s cost-effective and easy to implement because knowledge sharing is an integral part of human behavior.

Are you ready to create a culture of knowledge and skill-sharing in your organization? Try the GoSkills LMS for free today and see how your employees can learn together and at their own pace.

goskills business cta

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Sara Meij

Sara Meij

Sara is a digital communications expert and former journalist with a passion for writing. In her spare time she loves Latin dancing and getting outdoors to run, hike or mountain bike.

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