Instructional design Elearning Workplace training

27 minute read

Incorporating Social Learning into Workplace Training | Podcast Ep. 6

Laurel Buckley

Laurel Buckley

Concluding the first season of the L&D Explorers Podcast, we chat with Dr. Robin Sargent. Dr. Sargent is an author and entrepreneur with over 17 years of corporate instructional design experience. 

This episode discusses social learning and how L&D teams can effectively integrate it into formal training programs. 


Mentioned in this episode

Idol Courses website


- Idol Courses TikTok

- Idol Courses Facebook


- Idol Courses YouTube 

- Idol Courses Facebook Group 


- Idol Courses Instagram

- Dr. Robin Sargent's LinkedIn   - Dr. Robin Sargent's Instagram

Key takeaways 

1. The 4 elements of social learning theory 

Dr. Sargent explains effective social learning as four key elements: "Attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation."

Attention represents what the learner emotionally connects to the topic at hand. Retention and reproduction go hand in hand, as one of the best ways to retain information is "by taking what's internal and making it external." Reproduction can also take on the form of receiving targeted feedback. Motivation is knowing people are noticing you and having them cheer you on. 

Actionable insight: Design learning activities that address the four critical elements of social learning theory. Capture learners’ attention, help them retain information, encourage them to reproduce learned skills, and keep them motivated throughout the learning process.

2. Targeted social learning

Social learning…, especially in workplace training, has to revolve around some type of learning artifact.

These artifacts could be documents, videos, case studies, real-life scenarios, or any other content that learners can analyze, discuss, and learn from.

Actionable insight: Ensure that social learning settings have a clear focus and structure rather than relying on passive knowledge absorption. Use targeted learning artifacts to guide discussions and activities.

3. Create quality content 

You don't learn more effectively just because you add points, badges, and leaderboards to a learning intervention. Instead, the learning itself—the content is king or queen. It has to be instructionally aligned.

Actionable Insight: When creating learning content, focus on the quality of the content and learning activities first before adding gamification elements. While gamification enhances engagement, the core content and instructional design must be robust and effective on their own.

We hope you enjoyed this episode of our L&D Explorers Podcast! Subscribe to our YouTube, Podbean, or Spotify so you don’t miss the next episode. 

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Dan Gorgone: Welcome back to the L&D Explorers Podcast from GoSkills. On today's episode, we're talking with Dr. Robin Sargent, the founder of IDOL Courses and an expert in instructional design. Our topic today is social learning.

We'll discuss the four elements of social learning, how it takes place within organizations, and how L&D teams can integrate it into formal training. We’ll also discuss how culture impacts social learning and the importance of learning artifacts to guide training.

I'm Dan Gorgone, course producer for Goskills. Hope you enjoy this episode!

Hey, everyone, this is Dan Gorgone. I'm the course producer at GoSkills. Welcome back to the L&D Explorers Podcast, and with us today we've got Dr. Robin Sargent, who is the founder of IDOL Courses and the author of the 'Do It Messy Approach,' A Step-By-Step Guide for Instructional Designers and Online Learning Developers. That's a mouthful, Robin.


Robin Sargent: Yeah, well, you know, you gotta put those SEO terms in your book title. You can't just have 'Do a Messy Approach' and leave people wondering, 'What the heck is that all about?' The 'Do a Messy Approach?' The story of my life. No, it's...


Dan Gorgone: I hear you. Well, thanks for joining us. So, the topic that we're going to be talking about today is social learning. And I'm wondering, right off the bat, if you can give us an idea of what exactly that means. Because I imagine some people hear 'social' and 'learning' and start to wonder, does that mean we're doing things on social media? Does that mean we're doing things in groups? I mean, what sort of learning happens in this way? What does it all mean? And why should the L&D people who are watching the podcast pay attention to this topic?


Robin Sargent: Yeah, well, I think social learning theory has been around formally since the 1960s, and that's where it started. And we really started, right, with children learning from adult behaviors. The root of it is that we're social animals and we learn through imitation, and we learn through imitation at a very young age. And I think at this point, social learning has expanded to be part of that informal learning that we do, that we learn on the job. If we're going to relate it back to workplace learning, it's that learning that happens at the water cooler, or by engaging in a roundtable with your colleagues, or if you learn from a mentor and you're in the sales field, right, and you go out with the high-performing salesperson and you watch what they do so that you can then imitate it yourself. And that's kind of the origins of social learning theory. And it's really just, we're social creatures. We learn from others. It's how we've learned how to do all the things in our history. Just think about, you know, even ancient civilizations and the use of tools and so on and so forth. They weren't writing those things down. They weren't creating movies. They were passing that information along through apprenticeships and through social learning.


Dan Gorgone: So L&D professionals who are hearing this, who are learning about social learning, I know that any of them are going to be interested in any kind of ways that they can train their people. And so I'm sure that many of us have been consumed with the ideas of trying to come up with programs that include courses and have guest speakers or different kinds of hands-on training, things like that, as a way of training people and could be onboarding. It could be part of transferring them to different skills or different departments, things like that.

But social learning, the way you describe it, kind of sounds like it's passive and also sounds like, like you said, it's also an informal sort of thing. It's like something that you watch, you observe, but it also sort of happens all the time and it happens all around you. Is that, would you say that's kind of accurate?


Robin Sargent: I would say that at this point, social learning, like we usually think about it as those informal things, but you can turn it to be a very designed process at this point. As a matter of fact, some of the active ways to incorporate social learning would be, for example, you know, I'm the founder of IDOL Academy as well, which is the first and only virtual vocational school for our industry. It's a licensed vocational school. And so in that program, part of social learning is weaved throughout it, and part of the active part is getting feedback on purpose from experts in the field, working professionals. And so that is an active part of learning. But it's social learning because you are getting feedback from other professionals.

And there are other designed and very specific and targeted ways to use what we know about social learning. We know that people get inspiration, right? They imitate or they learn by watching others. And you can actually make social learning part of a formal program, and you can do it on purpose.


Dan Gorgone: So what are some ways that we can do that? Let's follow that path, right? So what are some strategies that companies can use to integrate social learning into their programs? And maybe what are, you know, one or two examples where the inspiration can happen for people where you can decide, this is the kind of activity that we want to put in front of people, or this is a situation we want to put them in, and we want to see if the social learning can happen. Yeah.


Robin Sargent: So I like to think about it as attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. And that's, like, that comes out of social learning theory as well. And so if you think about, like, a category of attention, well, you can use social learning icebreakers as a good example of social learning. Getting their attention through stories of their own peers and colleagues, something that captures them and gives the 'what's in it for them,' connects to them emotionally, or even shares what is the benefit for them. You can share that through, like, 'it benefited me.' Right?

Like, you can even think about how social learning happens in therapy, right? Like in an AA program. That is social learning about learning how to overcome addiction. Right.

And so, you get the attention, even in those situations, by other people sharing their stories, or how they were in your place but are now here. And so that can inspire people and, again, capture attention.

And the next one is retention, well, then, how are they going to retain what they learn? Well, we know that we process information by taking what's internal and making it external. And so that's talking about what we've learned. And social learning isn't just about watching other people do what they do, but it's also about sharing what you've learned with other people, which actually makes those memory traces, or the retention of what you've learned, even stronger in your own mind. Right? And they say, like, the best way to learn a thing, right, is to get to the place where you learn, do, and teach. And that, again, goes back to that social learning aspect.

The other one is reproduction. And so that is like the feedback aspect of social learning, where you have them learn, have them do, and then they get feedback from somebody who is more skilled and more advanced in whatever it is that they needed to do, in order to get that targeted feedback on what it is that they can enhance. I mean, it's not just workplace learning that this applies to, but all sorts of things, including sports, right? Like, I have three boys—I almost said four. I have a husband. He's not a boy. I have three boys. And they are all in sports. And so they're not going to get better just because they're playing basketball on the hoop in our driveway. They get better because the coach says, 'You're holding your arm wrong. You need to put your feet like this. You need to throw straight,' or whatever that is. And that is that specific, targeted feedback that you get.

And then the last thing is motivation. And because we're social creatures, a lot of motivation can come just from being in a social learning environment. Having people cheer you on, having even the motivation that knowing that other people are watching you, you'll even see it, like in universities, right? The universities that have on-ground classes versus the online classes. The show-up rates for on-ground classes are higher than those online. And I would say, and I think studies would probably show, that the reason why you have more people show up to the in-person is because there is a social pressure for them to show up. Whereas online, you can hide, and like, they're not keeping attendance in the same way. Your peers aren't noticing if you're missing from the online class, but if your seat is empty, they're going to notice and they're going to be like, 'Hey, Suzy, why didn't you show up to class?' Or, 'Oh, I missed you,' or 'You're a part of our learning team and I needed you to be a part of our group work.' And so motivation comes through that, and then just being able to share brings motivation. And also motivation comes from a sense of mastery. And how do you know that you've mastered something unless you have gotten the feedback from your peers?

And so, social learning, in a lot of ways, we probably integrate it without necessarily thinking, 'I'm integrating social learning theory.' We're just thinking, 'Oh, this could make this fun. This could make this, you know, wouldn't it be great if we got other people to share their experiences about making sales or running cold calls or whatever that training is about?'


Dan Gorgone: This is great because I want to just run down those four elements again so that people hear this and retain it. Retention. Yes, yes.

So, the four elements of social learning that you mentioned: the first one is attention. This is the learning process where you are actually observing and taking things in. The second one is retention, where you actually start to apply what you've learned. You do the things; you try it on your own. The third part is reproduction, which is another phase where you're doing things but also getting qualitative feedback from experts or mentors, understanding how you can refine your own process and skills.

But then, the fourth step is motivation—talking more about the social feedback. So, hearing that what you're doing is positive, that it's making a difference, or even sort of looping back. You know, 'make a change, try it, oh, let's try it again.' It's kind of looping between steps three and four. I could see where people keep refining and refining their skills. Those four steps make a lot of sense to me.

It seems like mentoring, apprenticeships, and especially a mentoring program would be a perfect fit to make social learning happen for the people in your company. Yeah.


Robin Sargent: And just think about how frustrating it is for people to feel alone. That's one of the things I hear from my students a lot, that the thing they valued the most in our program was the community. That they knew they weren't alone on their journey, that they always had their peers to turn to, who were on the same journey, that they could reach out to their faculty members. Right. That they could show up and even express frustrations. Because learning is not just academic; it's also emotional, because there are emotions tied to what we're learning, especially in a workplace. This might be tied to my professional advancement, or whether I get a promotion or a raise or things like that.

And so, social learning not only changes behavior, it can also change attitudes, which is pretty incredible when you think about a holistic understanding of learning and just how impactful that social aspect can be.


Dan Gorgone: Yeah, I was just going to say, it starts to change the culture. Like, once you start to put something in place where people observe these steps of social learning naturally—because it's something we do naturally—and you kind of expose the structure of it, the process of it. The more that people do this and the more that people are expected to do this, the more people welcome that feedback and the interaction. Not only are the people who are trying to learn learning, but the people who are teaching are learning as well. And so, everyone starts to take in more information, but also, I think, it starts to reflect on other people, especially new hires that come in. They will see mentoring happen, or they'll see that open communication and honest, constructive feedback is a part of the culture. Right?


Robin Sargent: I think that's a great connection because that's one of the things that they find. When organizations have a culture of learning, and more specifically, social learning, it improves the culture because it improves the behaviors and the attitudes.

And so, you also have all those studies that show people are looking for feedback in their roles. They are looking for advancement through mentorship and through training, and a lot of that comes through those social learning aspects. 


Dan Gorgone:  So anything that L&D professionals are going to implement, they're going to need to measure it. They're going to need to know if it's effective or not.

In discussing this, it feels like this would be difficult to measure because of the nature of social learning—sometimes it's passive but also informal, yet sometimes it is formal because it's part of our mentoring program, and maybe we've got apprentices. How do you measure something like this? To know that the things you're doing actively are effective, but also that the culture is reflecting what you want it to reflect?


Robin Sargent: I think it has to go back to being a moderating variable or something like that. It still has to be instructionally sound. And what I mean by that is it has to be in instructional alignment. So, you've got to know what your outcomes are. Then, those have to be tied to the assessments, which is how we measure things. And that has to then be connected to the activities. And all of these things are aligned, and those are the things that we are measuring. We're measuring their assessments, which should be connected to the outcomes and the activities.

Now, the activities, I think, is where we start to incorporate social learning. So if the alignment is sound and we know that this is the problem or the task-centered instruction that they need so that it can transfer to the real world, these other things, like social learning, enhance those things, just like gamification. You don't learn more effectively just because you add points, badges, and leaderboards to a learning intervention. Instead, the learning itself—the content is king or queen. It has to be instructionally aligned.

But once you know that it works and that it is sound and those measurements are in place, then you add gamification or you add social learning to target the behaviors that you want that enhance learning effectiveness. So, for instance, I know in my program and in our school, I want those students to create professional-level assets for their portfolio. And so I know that the ways I can measure that, right, are by a rubric and things like that.

But who's going to be the one that determines whether they've met that rubric? Well, then it becomes a little more subjective, and we bring in that social learning aspect. I mean, we are getting to the place where maybe you could have a robot do it or something like that. But there is something really special about having the eyes of an actual professional in the field. There are just things that you're not going to be able to teach people that a professional can catch when they actually see it in the work. Right.

You couldn't, like, list all of the don'ts in our industry. Instead, you have to catch them. So that's how I see social learning. Not as something necessarily that gets measured, but something that enhances what it is that you are measuring to improve the metrics and those outcomes. 


Dan Gorgone: Gotcha. So if people have been listening and they've been paying attention, it's not just let's throw a bunch of people in a room together and see what they learn from each other. It's let's take an instructionally sound approach and consider what outcomes we want, how we can assess them, and let's start to attach activities to it so that we can get the outcomes that we want, so that people know what to share and know what questions they should be asking, and the feedback that they should be trying to seek there.


Robin Sargent: Social learning at this point, especially in workplace training, has to revolve around some type of learning artifact of some sort. Right. There's got to be something at the center because, just like you gave the example, it's not enough. I mean, yeah, you could learn something by sitting in a room with people. Usually, I'm learning some new dirty jokes, but if we're going to call it social learning and we're going to get specific and targeted about it, there's got to be something that we're all looking at and talking about and sharing.

So there's got to be some kind of central learning artifact, whatever that is and whatever that looks like for the program.


Dan Gorgone:  So would a learning artifact be something like a business goal that our dear leader shares with us and says, 'We want to improve XYZ by 10% this quarter.' And so, to get that outcome, we want to produce more, or we want to improve the quality of this or things like that. Is that the artifact we're looking for, or is it something based on external forces, like customers or clients, things like that?


Robin Sargent: Well, I think to go with your example of sales, right. So if sales is the business goal or the business challenge for most people, if it's the challenge, then the learning artifact would be some type of materials around how you are going to improve those metrics. Right. And so, it'd be about lead generation.

Okay, well, how are you doing lead generation? Oh, well, we learned in the training or the course or in this quick reference guide or whatever it is, that we can get more leads by qualifying our leads in XYZ way, and then now they have something to center their discussion around and share best practices and things like that.

So that's really what I mean by learning artifacting.


Dan Gorgone: Well, let me kind of wrap up our discussion here and get you thinking. You sort of touched on it a little bit, like maybe robots will be able to give you feedback about some of the work you do. My question is about the future of social learning. You've mentioned a bunch of examples and talked about how social learning might take place within organizations or different groups or departments right now.

What are some of the things that you foresee as tools that we might be able to use? Could it be AI? AI has already been the focus of a couple of our episodes simply because of how powerful and effective it's been, not to mention controversial. So what do you think? Is AI one of those things we need to worry about in the future, or what are some of the other things that could potentially impact social learning?


Robin Sargent: I'm not a person that worries about AI. I freaking love it. But I would say it like my friend Dr. Nicole Papaioannou Lugara. She is in the industry. She runs Your Instructional Designer. And their whole focus is on social learning networks, which I think is really interesting and really relevant when we’re talking about the future of social learning in the workplace, because organizations are starting to build more of these social learning networks where it is exactly what we’ve been talking about, where they are building the artifacts that sit at the center, but the activities and the things that they do to enhance the instruction is through social learning networks.

So Nicole’s example that she gives is, there are these explorers that are going to go out into Antarctica to do some new research or whatever and find the Yeti. And so, how are you going to train these explorers?

We, like, bring them together in the room, and then you train them together and you have them work together and make plans together. Right. And so, that is like, yes, it's learning. There is some formal instruction included, but it is centered around those social learning aspects where they are learning from each other and they are creating plans together, and they are expanding what they can do or even the inspirations that they have.

I mean, even in my school, I have my students. They have to give feedback to their own peers in the program and a lot of them say, 'Well, how am I going to give feedback when I've never been an instructional designer before?' And we ease them through what it looks like and that they are qualified, you know, at least as a learner, in order to give feedback to their peers.

But what we really are targeting here when we say, like, you need to go give your peers peer feedback, is because every asset, every eLearning course, every script that they read, everything that they see produced by other people, is them learning from others, right? They can get inspired by others. They can see what they maybe don't want to do or what they do want to do. Or they see things that are novel or things that they never thought about.

The future of social learning has to be about this change and this shift that I've seen, even in the fact that an agency solely focuses on social learning networks, and that just makes it more personalized and it gets people excited. People love to interact with other people. That's just how we are made. And we've seen what, and we love social media.

And so, I just see more of those social media aspects, even making their way into workplace training. Just look at how much we have even taken notes from TikTok to create short-form videos for workplace training and are delivering it in a similar format. Because we like to see other people. We like it to be authentic, we like it to be human, and we like to be able to connect with other people about shared, you know, artifacts. And that can even just be a short-form video that you make comments under. I see it happening more especially as people feel disconnected because of, you know, work from home, the isolation they may feel from things all being online. And so it's almost like the pendulum swings, and I see the pendulum swinging more towards people looking for real, authentic human connection. And that's across everything, including how they learn.


Dan Gorgone: I think a lot of what you just said, it felt like a metaphor for what we're trying to do with the podcast here, you know, trying to learn from each other and trying to teach each other. And it's one reason why we called it the L&D Explorers Podcast, because we're exploring this space.

So, I thank you for that, and thank you so much for sharing your time. I want to give people a chance to connect with you. Where can they find you? Is it social?

Is it through IDOL Courses? IDOL Academy?


Robin Sargent: Yes. So you can go to my website,, and that's also where you'll find access to our vocational school, IDOL Academy. We also run an exclusive staffing agency that only hires IDOL Academy graduates for large enterprise contracts. Working on e-learning projects.

You can find me all over social. I'm on TikTok. My main platform is LinkedIn. Robin Sargent. You'll be able to find me there. We also have IDOL Academy on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook. Got a Facebook group, Become an IDOL. And did I name them all? TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.


Dan Gorgone: You're on Twitter too?


Robin Sargent: I'm not on Twitter. No. X on the X. And yeah, and I think that's enough. And I would love to connect with you. I am most active on LinkedIn, so if you want to have a conversation with me, connect with me on LinkedIn. If you want a free copy, a PDF copy of my book, send me a message on LinkedIn and I'll send it to you right away. That's awesome.


Dan Gorgone: Well, thank you once again, Dr. Robin Sargent joining us from IDOL Courses. 

Thank you so much. 


Robin Sargent: Thank you, Dan. Appreciate it. It's happy to be here.


Dan Gorgone: Hey everyone, thanks for watching this episode of the L&D Explorers Podcast. If you enjoyed it, please give it a like and subscribe because more episodes are on the way and no matter what your learning and development goals are, GoSkills can help. Click the link in the description to find out more. And thanks again for watching.

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Laurel Buckley

Laurel Buckley

Laurel is a writer at GoSkills. She also enjoys writing on travel and culture and is always studying a new language.