Social learning is not new, but we still do not know what it is. Albert Bandura wrote a book called Social Learning Theory in 1977, and he didn’t even have a Facebook account. Who would have thought? Bandura wrote that people learn through observation of other people. So social learning is about watching others and doing what they do?
That was social learning then. Today it’s about using social media in our training, right? No, that’s not quite it because that brings us into discussions in which people tell us that it’s not about the technology. We are getting closer. A more sophisticated definition of social learning includes enabling connections between people so that they can learn what they need to learn, when they need to learn it by interacting and collaborating with each other. OK, that’s more like it.
Here's the problem with social learning: Whenever I read an article about it, I find my thoughts drifting off because few of these articles talk about who is actually doing it or how they actually do it. So instead of stories of little, under the radar, experiments that show successes (or failures for that matter) in social learning, we read about what we should do, even though no one has ever tried it. Below, I share an idea about how to conduct an experiment and get started in social learning.
How to get started?
Whatever you do, don’t go through a strategy planning or change management or stakeholder buy-in process. Though these are important steps, they are not the first steps. Instead, try a good old fashioned experiment in which you do not need approval nor the need to spend a dime! Here’s how.
1. Select opening discussion.
Take a training course that you have already taught or one that is an ongoing course that people continue to need. Review the course and find that opening exercise or discussion that most courses have. For example, the discussion in which the classes discusses what they expect to learn in the class.
2. Remove discussion from the class.
Take those discussions out of the class. That’s right, delete it from the learner guide or slide, if you have to.
3. Move the discussion to your social network of choice.
Have that discussion on Yammer or Socialtext or other similar, free software that allows people to talk to each other. If your company has any kind of internal collaboration software or even discussion groups on an intranet, use that. Post the discussion question in that site.
4. Direct learners to the discussion.
When you send out the announcements for the class, include instructions to go to that site and respond to the discussion questions. Remind people to join the discussion and remind people it is part of the class and doing this discussion will help them have a better learning experience in class. It may even help the class be run more efficiently or even shorter.Repeat this process for the closing activity in your training class. For that matter, you can take just about any one of the activities, role plays, discussions, or exercises from the class and host them on one of these social media sites. The point is you have to dip your toe in the water, experiment, and gain some experience before you can even begin to develop a social learning strategy.
5. Follow up.
After you conduct your experiment, ask yourself several questions. Did people participate? Did they enjoy participating? Did the experiment enhance the learning experience and how? Do you think participants would do it again and/or tell their colleagues about it? Would you do it again? Are you proud enough about the results to show them off to the right people?
Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer at The Knowland Group, is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at well-known companies like E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable. In his leadership role at Knowland University, Bill focuses on helping clients get the most out of the products and services provided through a combination of guided and self-paced learning opportunities. He believes all learning experiences should be grounded in real-world application and designed to improve sales performance.