social learning need to embrace it

Social learning – why I think we should embrace it

Social learning by Kay Buckby

This blog is based on a session I facilitated for the TNN in March 2016 on the subject of social learning.

I’m a facilitator. I’ve never been particularly interested in technology, but I am a dedicated Learning and Development (L&D) professional. What surprises me is how many L&D people are reluctant to embrace social learning as part of their formal learning plan/offering. There are a range of social media and technology tools that we can use to encourage collaboration, sharing, and real time learning; yet many organisations have not tapped into this.

These are my thoughts on social learning. I see social learning as something we’ve always done… chats in the canteen, the corridors, the smoking huts. Call it the grapevine, networking or just being nosey – it’s part of being a human being! These types of informal learning discussions are so useful in enabling us to do a better job, and therefore enable our organisations to operate better.

My definition of social learning is that it is the informal, learner driven learning that occurs as a natural part of gaining knowledge, skills and experience to do a job effectively.

Here are a few reasons why I embrace social learning as part of our formal learning menu:

  1. Learners drive their own learning.

With traditional learning, we as facilitators set the objectives, and measure them during the learning event. We trust our learners and Managers to embed the learning at work. Now, in our just in time world, learners can ask the questions and get answers from their peers, their Manager, and us, to suit their own learning needs.

For instance, on our ( elearning portal, the learning continues after the learner has completed modules, and after the course. The sharing of experiences, such as ‘What I learned today’, affirmations around better practice, and asking questions that the formal learning didn’t cover, show that learning is real time, extended by application, and learner driven. We’ve identified gaps in the course, additional course needs and additional learning.

  1. Learning is continuous.

The training course, the ‘How to’ guide, and the elearning programme – they all have a beginning and an end to them. With social learning, the end point is unlimited, as the need is defined and refined by the learner.

For example, one Facebook group has enabled me to extend my use of IT packages – I learn by seeing someone else showing information in ways I would never have thought of, sharing their learning on models and theories I thought I knew well, and asking questions that I never even thought to ask!

  1. It makes us feel good.

Sharing information and helping others satisfies a huge need for human beings. One Harvard study found our brains can trigger dopamine as a reward for helping others.

I personally agree with this one, as I always feel thrilled when I share information to help someone else. I helped design the trainers resource the Diversity Thumball as a result of collaboration with Susan Landay President of the Trainers Warehouse – she put a call out on their Linkedin group. It’s great to share your own experiences with peers.

  1. Collaboration

We know from social psychology that our motivation and confidence is enhanced when we share information with others. If we can share ideas, problems, learning, etc. then think of the enhanced team working opportunities for us all. Too often we work in silos – unaware what makes others tick.

I am part of many closed Facebook groups for remote project working. It’s so useful to be able to understand the people I am relying on to complete a project, whom I will not get to meet face to face. I found out one of my team members is a Beatles fan, like me, and it helps to have that social pastime information that I wouldn’t get if we weren’t Facebook friends.

  1. Ideas

We can generate unlimited ideas, problem solve and pose dilemmas to a wider and more diverse audience.

One client of mine used a ‘Yammer’ group to pose a question about a staff conference session they were designing. They were positively overwhelmed with offers of help, unusual solutions to how they could run the session, and extensions of their idea. It eased the stress for them, and saved time.

  1. We can learn, share, and ask questions any where

We can collaborate with people all over the world, with no time constrictions.

I met Shirley Gaston of Azesta, Alison Matthews of Sensability and Madam Becky Adams via Twitter. These people have given up their valuable time to facilitate face to face sessions for us.

I’ve posed questions on Twitter, Linkedin and facebook to improve our network, and extend my know how in running this network. Ask Paul Green of NNCoNNect – I’ve adapted many ideas from his networking know how for the TNN.

  1. Feedback

Feedback is a gift. We can get swift feedback on did our solution work, a marketing campaign idea, or first draft of a presentation.

One member of a Certificate in Training group uploaded a filmed dummy training session onto a closed ‘Slack’ group – they had been asked to design a training session at short notice, and wanted peer support and feedback. The feedback they got enabled them to redesign it as a Webinar, which was also piloted with the Slack group.  The cost savings were huge.



The thing that shocks me is when people say to me – if we utilise social learning, then what if our people get it wrong?

I actually see this as looking at it upside down– if our people are telling others the wrong information, sharing the wrong process or communicating things wrongly, we can all see this using formal social learning technology.

Think about it. Before, if Bob in the canteen, was sharing the wrong information, we didn’t know this in real time.

Using social learning means we can correct when giving the wrong messages – that’s benchmarking, that no learning event can ever truly manage.

The benefits are obvious – cost savings, real time learning, and more efficient people and systems. But it’s more than that. Think of tapping into, extending and stimulating the unlimited potential of our people. That’s got to be the future of social learning.


If you have any ideas on packages we can use, or you would like to share your own stories about social learning solutions, please join in the debate.



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