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How to Avoid 5 Social Learning Pitfalls in Online Training

We’re happy to have a guest blog today from Christopher Pappas, founder of The eLearning Industry’s Network, which is the largest online community of professionals involved in the eLearning Industry. Christopher holds an MBA and MEd (Learning Design) from BGSU. eLearning Blogger | EduTechpreneur | eLearning Analyst | Speaker | Social Media Addict

Social learning provides a plethora of benefits. But there are also some drawbacks that elearning professionals should be aware of. Thankfully, there are ways to overcome the most common social learning pitfalls so that you can achieve the desired outcome. In this article, I’ll highlight the top 5 social learning pitfalls in online training, and I’ll share tips for avoiding them.

Social learning was first introduced by Albert Bandura, who suggested people learn through observation and modelling. For example, a learner watches their peer perform a task. If they are successful, the learner models that behavior to achieve the same results. According to Bandura, human behavior is based on “reciprocal interactions” that involve cognitive, environment, societal and behavioral factors. Like any ID theory, social learning has its benefits and drawbacks. However, there are some ways to avoid the most common pitfalls.

  1. Placing Too Much Value on Societal Influences

Social learning is not a solitary activity. Employees must be able to observe someone else’s behaviors or actions and use this as example in their own lives. Societal and cultural influences also play a crucial role. However, this limits the accountability of the individual. Some actions are merely the result of personal choices and cognitions. They have little to do with society and the “status quo.” Though society may play its part, the learner is ultimately in charge of their own choices and the resulting outcomes.

How to Avoid: You can avoid this pitfall in your course by holding corporate learners responsible for their own behaviors. Provide immediate feedback that helps them pinpoint strengths and weaknesses. Training contracts are also a valuable tool. These contracts specify learner goals, how they are going to achieve the, and the repercussions if they fail to do so.

Personalized learning paths are another option. This allows employees to focus on personal objectives and choose the training activities that meet their needs. They are not required to keep pace with their peers and are held fully accountable for their own performance.

  1. Underestimating the Importance of Learner Cognitions

Every employee who participates in your course comes with their own “baggage” in the form of personal beliefs, opinions, assumptions and values. Over the course of their lifetime, every experience, event and interaction has contributed to their cognition. These are internal mental processes that shape who we are and make us individuals. In some cases, social learning underestimates the importance of these cognition and overestimates peer-based influences.

How to Avoid: Research your audience to learn more about their beliefs, values and assumptions. Encourage them to join online discussion groups where they can interact with their peers and see things from a different viewpoint. This gives them the ability to challenge their current cognitions and learn from the perspectives of others.

  1. Telling Rather Than Showing

One of the most common social learning mistakes is forgetting about the modelling component. For example, developing a presentation that walks employees through every step of the process, but not displaying the steps. Social learning hinges on reproduction and mimicking. Employees watch the behaviors being performed and then reenact them to achieve the same result. Thus, omitting visuals from your training design can hinder the social learning process.

How to Avoid: Employees model the habits and behaviors of their peers or online instructors. Therefore, you must provide visual stimuli that highlight the main concepts or ideas. For instance, a training video that shows them how to complete a task or a presentation that includes images and bulleted lists. Observation is an absolute must in social learning. As such, you need to integrate multimedia that allows corporate learners to imitate and model the process.

  1. Failure to Consider ALL Motivating Factors

No two employees are alike. Each holds different values and each is fueled by different motivating factors. One corporate learner might be motivated by status, while another is striving to achieve their personal goals. A common social learning pitfall is failing to consider WHY employees mimic certain behaviors. In most cases, employees mimic the behavior because it’s been tried and tested. They’ve seen their peers take the same approach and it’s led to a favorable outcome. However, there’s more to it than that. In order to model the actions, employees need to meet their motivational requirements.

How to Avoid: Stress the benefits of modeling the behaviors, as well as the desired outcomes. If employees know that mimicking the actions will help them achieve their objective, then they are more likely to follow by example. You should also survey your employees beforehand and conduct workplace observations to see what really motivates them.

  1. Forgetting To Reinforce Key Concepts

Many elearning professionals focus on the observation aspect of social learning. They create amazing presentations and training videos that highlight every step or sub-topic. However, they forget about the forgetting curve. Employees only have a limited amount of space in their working memories. As such, you must reinforce the key concepts on numerous occasions to improve knowledge retention. In other words, you have to make the online training content easily digestible and memorable.

How to Avoid: Offer support tools that employees can access anytime, anywhere. This can be anything from micro tutorials to mobile-friendly videos. The secret is jogging their memory so that they can model the task in the real world. You must also stress the practical applications so corporate learners know how to use the information outside the social learning environment.

Social learning is an interactive, engaging approach that requires audience participation. Fortunately, you can use these 5 tips to bring all of your employees into the fold, even the introverted ones, so everyone benefits from your online training program.

Social learning is a hot elearning topic with the rise of social media and online forums. But how much do you really know about this collaboration-centric elearning approach? Read the article The Truth Behind 5 Social Learning Myths to learn more.