Learning is inherently social. Regardless of content type or delivery format, most of what we learn comes from other people.

social learning“Social learning” hit trend status alongside the rise of social media in the late 2000s. Because we had new, high-tech ways to share, people also assumed “social learning” was a new idea. Now, with the hype cycle fading, “social learning” is a less popular L&D conversation topic. But, it’s still a vital component of a successful learning ecosystem that offers a ton of value to organizations that embrace it.

In this month’s curated insights post, let’s take a look at how “social learning” continues to evolve within the context of the modern workplace learning.


The Truth Behind 5 Social Learning Myths from Christopher Pappas

Let’s start at the beginning. That’s Christopher Pappas’ approach as he refutes a few of the most common misconceptions that still plague the social learning environment. This is a great intro post for those looking to get started with social learning. To summarize his 5 main points down to 3 …

  • This concept isn’t new. People have been social pretty much forever.
  • We learn from other people regardless of demographic or technology.
  • This is serious stuff since we often learn more from our peers than in formal training. 

 

Like I said, this is an introductory post. This is mostly due to the fact that it takes a programmatic stance on social learning in support of courses. Yes, a social learning environment can be used to support structured workplace learning experiences and facilitate related ongoing collaboration. However, that’s just one small part of the knowledge sharing puzzle as the next 3 posts will demonstrate.

Nuts and Bolts: It’s Not About “Doing” Social from Jane Bozarth

Jane wrote the book on how to use social media in training—literally. She wrote Social Media for Trainers and has become a leading advocate for workplace knowledge sharing. Jane presents two familiar scenarios in her August Learning Solutions Magazine column to demonstrate the potential—and challenges—of social learning. Enablement is the name of the game when it comes to knowledge sharing. After all, how would you react if someone told you how you were allowed to use Twitter?

I have witnessed situations very similar to Jane’s examples throughout my career. In one case, I watched as employees in a global organization established invite-only Facebook groups despite the availability of an enterprise social network. Why? Because they could do and say whatever they wanted in their own private space without fear of being “regulated.” As Jane points out, people will always find a way to share and collaborate (and complain) with regards to work. If you don’t enable them to do so in meaningful ways within the organization, they’ll just do it somewhere else.

To Work Out Loud from Julian Stodd

Here’s a free piece of advice: never follow Julian Stodd during a panel discussion. The dude is wicked smart! I made this mistake once, and I’m pretty sure no one was listening to me. They were still trying to digest the brilliance of Julian, who should have just dropped the mic when he was done. Anyway …

In this brief reflection post, Julian shares a simple but excellent example of what it means to work out loud. “Learning in isolation is less powerful than learning within our communities.” That about sums it up. Not only must we enable employees to share on their own terms, but we must reinforce the importance of storytelling as a way to collaborate on new thoughts and unfinished ideas. This can represent a considerable culture change for organizations that tend to look down upon those who share openly without regard for workplace hierarchy and politics.

Implementing network learning from Harold Jarche

A master of functional models, author and consultant Harold Jarche takes social learning to the next level with his perspective on the role of professional networks. Knowledge sharing among work teams just isn’t sufficient if one hopes to keep up with the pace of innovation. Rather, we must seek to establish “value networks” across the professional spectrum so we can test, apply and share our new knowledge.  

At first glance, these ideas may feel a bit loose and aspirational. But, if you consider how the various elements of network learning apply to your role, you will likely notice this is the reality of modern workplace knowledge sharing. I can personally speak to the value I derive from gathering and sharing new knowledge across my professional networks. If we don’t enable employees to leverage internal and external networks to evolve their capabilities, our businesses will suffer. This will require a resurgence of trust, accountability and prioritization, considerations that are often lacking within organizations that fail to embrace social learning.


The speed of business requires a social approach to learning. Rather than consider it an “add on” to traditional training, we must leverage shared knowledge as the foundation of our modern learning and performance ecosystems. “Social learning” is human nature. It’s about time we leveraged it as core part of what we do at work.  

Share your thoughts via comments below, and come on back to the Axonify KNOWledge Blog in September for my next curated post on another popular L&D theme. For a behind-the-scenes look into my curation efforts, check out my Flipboard, where I post new articles on a variety of workplace learning topics every day.

JD Dillon

Author: JD Dillon

JD Dillon, the principal learning strategist at Axonify, has spent 15 years designing and implementing learning and performance strategies for respected global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company, Kaplan, Brambles, and AMC Theatres. With his practical approach and ability to integrate science, technology, storytelling, and pure common sense, JD delivers modern solutions that enable employees, improve organizational performance, and drive business results. In his current role with Axonify, JD works with an award-winning team to boost employee knowledge and performance for leading organizations through the application of modern learning practices and cutting-edge technology.

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