Social Learning

How can talent development professionals support social learning in the workplace?

Curated resources for promoting social learning

Attention: Learning Ecosystems 2017 Attendees
Special welcome to those visiting this page to find additional resources related to my 2017 Learning Ecosystems session on cultivating peer-to-peer learning. Scroll down for the full slide deck and handouts.

As organizations move toward more informal development activities, talent development professionals often want to encourage and support social learning in a variety of forms. Emerging tools make it easier than ever to connect people to one another, but enabling social spaces does not necessarily ensure that people will engage effectively to develop knowledge and skills. Employees may not have the social savvy or the learning skills to build the kind of interpersonal relationships that support development.

Social learning graphicIn order to support social learning and take advantage of emerging social technologies, talent development professionals must understand the dynamics of social learning – its prerequisites, its success factors, and its nuances. Luckily, there have been decades of research and experience that can ground your work. Theory- and research-based recommendations encompass mentoring and developmental relationships, team learning, communities of practice, communities of inquiry, and other specific kinds of relational learning.

The curated resources below describe some of my favorite frameworks for understanding social learning in a variety of contexts, and I recommend you explore them to deepen your understanding of the details.

At a high level, you will learn that there are five factors that provide a fertile environment for social learning.

Intention. Social learning works best when people know what it is they want to achieve. Talent development professionals need to identify the purpose of their social learning strategy and its connection to business and performance goals. People engaged in social learning need to be aware of their learning goals. These intentions drive activities within the relationships and the social spaces.

Individual propensity and skill. People need to be personally motivated to seek learning with others (or to play developer roles), and they need to have the interpersonal skills and internet skills to engage with people in a productive way.

Relationship strength. The relationship dynamics need to be strong for relational learning to take hold. People need to feel comfortable and trusting of one another. They need some experience together and depth of conversation in order to enhance the quality of their relationships and hence their potential impact.

Activity match. There are many different ways that people learn from and with one another – socializing, storytelling, information exchange, question-and-answer, mentoring, coaching, co-learning, joint effort on a project, collaboration… just to name a few. When talent development professionals want to promote social learning, it can be helpful to determine the most appropriate kinds of social learning for the purpose at hand – to match activity to learning need.

Tool functionality and accessibility. In modern organizations, social learning is often supported by technology – from enterprise social networks, to internet access, to videoconferencing tools, and more. Ensuring that learners and developers have the most appropriate tools can be an important way to support social learning. And physical space shouldn’t be overlooked either – collaborative spaces, project walls, and co-location may be necessary for effective social learning as well.

Ensuring these factors is an important task for talent development professionals who want to maximize social learning in their organizations. Cultivating social learning is an integral part of learning environment design. The curated resources below will provide in-depth explanations of the dynamics and frameworks that can help you to conceptualize a learning support strategy.

Curated Resources

//  Scaffolding Peer-to-Peer Learning  >

Here are the materials I prepared for my concurrent session on cultivating social learning for the 2017 Learning Ecosystems conference.

//  Social Learning in the Enterprise  >

These articles are among my favorites with regard to developing an enterprise social network strategy. You’ll notice that an effective strategy is a delicate balance of providing aid and getting out of the way.

// Useful Frameworks for Social Learning  >

These articles provide overviews of the frameworks I find most helpful in conceptualizing social learning strategy and diagnosing issues in social learning engagement.

Developmental Relationships
Learning in mentoring and peer-to-peer relationships

Researchers have studied mentoring, peer mentoring, mentoring networks and other kinds of one-on-one developmental support for decades – and that work can help us to understand the dynamics of social learning outside of strict mentoring relationships.

  • With a Little Help From Our Friends. By Catherine Lombardozzi (2013). This white paper synthesizes the literature on developmental relationships. It explains the factors necessary for relationships to form and the variety of potential relational learning activities you might promote.

Communities of Practice
Collective learning in a shared domain of practice

Communities of practice are often seen as the gold standard of relational learning; the benefits are well-documented, and many organizations would love to see more of this kind of dynamic in the workplace. Communities are naturally occurring and unfortunately easily disrupted – sometimes trying to help them actually dissipates the magic. Nonetheless, there is plenty of advice on how to support communities that exist and how to create a culture that welcomes them.

Community of Inquiry Framework
A model for cultivating robust conversations in online learning

Those who design learning in the academic context have been studying how to best engage people online for decades. One of the most frequently cited models for promoting online learning is the community of inquiry framework. With a little imagination, you can see how some of these ideas might be applicable in a corporate context as well.

  • Community of Inquiry (website). By Randy Garrison, Marti Cleveland-Innes, and Norm Vaughan. This framework is widely utilized for considering how to engage students in online learning. Their articles discuss the importance of social presence (engagement), cognitive presence (learning behaviors) and teaching presence (design and facilitation). The ideas are applicable for those who may want to encourage rich discussion online.
  • Theoretical foundations and epistemological insights of the community of inquiry. By Randy Garrison (2013). In Educational communities of inquiry: Theoretical framework, research, and practice. Z Akyul and D.R. Garrison, editors. IGI Global
  • Community of Inquiry (video). By Jared Borup – Overview based on the Garrison, Anderson, and Archer’s Community of Inquiry Model

Connectivist Theory
How people learn in a networked, digital age

Connectivism is a relatively new learning theory which puts networked learning front-and-center, and it has a growing research base.

Self-Directed Learning
How people manage their own learning

The success of learning strategies that feature learning ecosystems and learning environments is that these approaches depend on individuals to actively manage their own learning. Theoretically, in a digital age, people define their own goals, reach out into the ecosystem for resources and human connections, and incorporate learning into the flow of work. But many people are more used to structured learning for professional development, and resource abundance and work pressures can actually make it difficult to identify and engage learning activities. Self-directed learning theory can help us to identify what may need to be scaffolded so that people can indeed manage their learning activities productively.

Social Learning Theory Overview

  • Social Learning Theories. By Jon Dron and Terry Anderson (2014). A chapter from their book on Teaching Crowds, this provides a nice overview of a variety of social learning theories specifically related to teaching online.

//  Social Learning Technology  >

//  People to Follow  >

Many people talk about social learning in the enterprise, of course, but these folks have it as a main focus of their work. Please contact me if you want to recommend others.

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Last updated: March 22, 2017 by Catherine Lombardozzi
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