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Everyone’s a natural at social learning


“How do I…?” “Show me how you did that…” “That’s a cool effect, what app did you use…?”

If you don’t ask Google, you ask your friends, family or colleagues when you need to learn to do something new.

And that’s social learning.

Learning begins when you need to solve a problem. To find that solution you’ll explore real life situations, most likely from someone, be it face-to-face, a blog or an article on the net.

For example, I recently wanted to learn to code the new Adapt responsive elearning software. So I reached out to a developer with the knowledge I needed and the skills to pass it on to me.  

What I didn't expect was that I’d have to show him how to use my Mac (he’d not used one before), so I taught him to find the equivalent of command (terminal) and numerous other Mac specific commands.

This is social learning that can benefit an employer – when staff are learning new skills from each other, not because they have to, but because they want to.

It’s in my employer’s interest to give me the time, tools and trust to get on and learn, and in everyone’s interest to make this happen as easily as possible.

Relinquish control

But organisations have to be careful not to be seen ‘hijacking’ their employees’ social interactions, with the aim of benefiting from them.

For most employees social means informal, and there’s a real possibility of scaring them off if your efforts to encourage interactions are too heavy-handed.

Staff know when it’s forced; for them doing a training course in a group isn't social learning, its workplace learning with a group of work colleagues.

Organisations can’t take control of social learning, but have to relinquish control of it and let it ‘happen’. They have to be mindful not to over engineer the environments in which it’s happening.

The trouble with Social learning is it’s rather opaque. Organisations want to find out the answers to questions such as… “How do we measure it? How will it increase productivity? How will we know if it’s just staff having a gossip?” All valid questions, but I feel they are the wrong questions.

A better question to ask is “How can we, as an organisation, make it easy for our staff to find the information they require from the people who have it?

Support and encourage

A group of people who share knowledge about a craft or profession is called a Community of Practice, it happens naturally and it’s responsible for a lot of informal learning in the workplace already.


Organisations need to look for the kinds of social engagement that provide them with the most relevant context for learning to take place.

So if you've got a group of people who naturally bounce ideas of each other to come up with solutions to problems do everything you can to encourage and support it, but don’t try and control it.

And this is where the crux lies with workplace social learning – the focus needs to be on what the leaner will gain from participating. Their experience and benefits need to be the focus of your social learning strategy.

If you’d like to talk to me about social learning and hear more about how it can benefit your business, register for our webinar.

Author: Brayley Pearce, Instructional Designer, Sponge

Interested in hearing more about social learning? Join us for our specialist webinar:

A well bee-hived workplace: learning socially from nature

Wednesday, August 19, 2015 12:30:00 PM BST - 13:00:00 PM BST

What is this Social Learning that everyone is buzzing about?

Join us for this insightful and collaborative webinar, to explore the fundamentals of what social learning means, and how we can be inspired by and benefit from the world around us.

We'll be offering plenty of opportunities for you to contribute to the conversation and have your say, as we cover key areas including:

  • The relationship between social learning and elearning
  • How social technologies can help your learners
  • The benefits of social learning to your business
  • The barriers to social learning