Social learning is the oldest form of human learning; simply defined, social learning is learning through interactions with other people. Everyone has experienced learning through these interactions. In fact, social learning is likely the way you learned to talk, to say please and thank you, and to recognize shapes, animals, and colors. The same basic learning strategies can be employed in a corporate environment, and often take place in a variety of day-to-day interactions, both online and in person.

What Does Social Learning Look Like in the Workplace?

You might be surprised to realize that social learning is taking place in offices and businesses around the country and the world every single day. The following examples all illustrate the ways in which employees learn from one another.

  • One member of your staff asks a colleague a technical question.
  • Employees use online help files to solve problems.
  • You spend a short time demonstrating a new skill to a few employees.
  • Employees are offered the opportunity to shadow other members of your staff.

These are all forms of social learning, or learning from one another. Some of them involve direct interactions, and others indirect interactions.

The Advantages of Social Learning

Social learning offers a number of advantages for both corporations and individuals learning in those corporations. Traditionally, employee training and education takes place in classrooms or during professional conferences. It requires time missed from work, and is less effective at producing long-term retention of information.

Time

Social learning does not require dedicated blocks of time. Instead, it takes place during the course of the workday or on a regular and repeated basis. There is no need to close your offices or pay travel expenses when you encourage social learning over event-based or session-based learning.

Learning

Organizations that encourage and facilitate social learning may be quite surprised when they realize that their employees are learning more and retaining more. In many cases, social learning allows employees to learn through a variety of different learning modalities, and even to select the learning methods and styles that work best for the individual employee.

Collaboration

Social learning involves interaction between co-workers, and facilitates engagement, cooperation, and collaboration. This team atmosphere supports employee well-being and happiness, encouraging your staff to work together effectively to help one another grow.

Taking Social Learning Online

Many companies maintain multiple offices, different shifts, or rely upon remote workers. Social learning can take place in an online environment, as well as in face-to-face interactions. If you need to bring workers together from different sites and offices, you can encourage social learning by:

  • Using real-time live streaming to bring staff together to learn.
  • Relying upon mobile tools to show site visits to your staff.
  • Implementing video conferencing options to keep people talking, even if they live and work thousands of miles apart. 
  • Maintaining accessible media content to educate staff when they have time available or questions.
  • Allowing questions and comments visible to all users on media content.
  • Offering an online discussion feed to post questions, comments, and engage with others while building collaborative relationships.