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How to support social learning


Your L&D strategy is likely to already include some social learning and it’s something we’re being asked about by more businesses when they seek elearning.

Something we’ve noticed with almost all the organisations we’ve worked with is that social learning is already happening naturally; employees are sharing knowledge informally and solving problems with the help of their peers.

Technological advances in hardware and software have accelerated this process and helped make it an unavoidable part of the learning and development environment. Elearning is easily integrated with these new forms of interactions and can offer the best way to capitalise on them for your training.

The main challenge for L&D is how to support this process most effectively without being seen as hijacking the conversation at the same time.

Identify social learning

It’s happening already regardless of the tool or system being used the flow of information around a business plays a big part in how your employees develop.

Any interaction is an opportunity for social learning; collaborative training sessions, internal messaging tools or chatting at the water cooler. By being aware of the situations in which people interact, you can identify the areas where social learning happens.

All the areas you identify at this stage have the potential to compliment your next piece of training.

Be a part of it

Try to get involved in the interactions if you aren’t already part of them.  By engaging in the same conversations as the people taking your training you can better understand the ways they transfer skills.

Having the experience of using the tools will help when creating a pipeline from an elearning course to the pool of social learning content that compliments it.

Being a part of the various exchanges already happening helps you think about social learning as a channel for knowledge transfer, rather than a specific tool or environment.  But it’s impossible (and undesirable) to control all the channels your employees are using.

Hopefully it’s becoming clear at this stage that trying to control social learning is not going to benefit you or your employees.  So, what can you do?

Support, don’t control

We use several tools to enable collaboration and communication between staff at Sponge UK.  Our most recent example of social learning is the messaging tool Slack.

The timeline:

  • Developers start using Slack amongst their team to communicate more quickly
  • Design and ID teams are brought in as part of day to day collaboration
  • Use spreads organically to other teams through interaction
  • Interactions and features are explored for various teams
  • Slack becomes the default messaging app throughout the business
  • ”Brown bag” informal training session held to bring people up to speed
  • Guidelines for use of the tool issued

Only after this tool had proved its utility and was being used in all areas of the business were guidelines issued. The behaviour of people using the tool hasn’t changed, but the guide clarifies the way it should be used and ensures everyone is aware of the rules for things like external access.

Here’s what Brayley Pearce, Instructional Designer at Sponge UK said about Slack in our recent webinar on social learning:

“One of the reasons it’s been so successful is that no-one told us to do it. Because it came from within the team and it is used from the directors down within the organisation. It was because we needed to find something and the organisation here has given us the permission, trust and time to find the right tools that work for us.”

Give your employees the time, trust and tools to share their knowledge and you will all benefit.

Elearning can be integrated as closely as necessary with your social tools. It could be a simple link to the relevant place for discussion after a course, or it could be a fully-integrated approach involving your LMS.

Either way, you need to identify, use and support the various channels that staff use in order for a social learning strategy to succeed.

At Sponge UK, we build elearning that gets to the heart of the learning objectives, and we know that social learning can complement that and make it even more effective.

About the author

Louise Pasterfield is the Managing Director of Sponge UK

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Sponge Admin

Web Specialist

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