The internet is teeming with statistics about how much information learners retain based on the type of learning they’re engaged in—reading, hearing, doing, etc. You’ve probably seen a version of the “learning cone” attributed to the work of Edgar Dale or the National Training Laboratory. The truth is these attractive statistics are unreliable at best.
According to Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, “…[P]eople learn through observing others’ behavior, attitudes, and outcomes of those behaviors.” Although this theory doesn’t provide easy statistics, it approaches human learning from a social perspective. Which makes sense: human beings are social creatures who have learned to collaborate more effectively than any other species on the planet.
So, whether you planned for it or not, your company is a social learning company. When people collaborate, social learning is happening. But they might not be learning the right things. For example, have you ever worked at a company where employees spent more time socializing than working? This is learned behavior, and without understanding social learning theory and intentionally nurturing an effective learning culture, your employees might not learn what you need them to learn.
Ways to Incorporate Social Learning into Corporate Training
Do you have any workplace leaders who consistently model good behavior you are looking to advance? One way to bring social learning into your training is to acknowledge these individuals and explicitly encourage them to continue this behavior. Give them tips, ask them to make themselves available to new employees and check in regularly to make sure they’re feeling supported and not overwhelmed by this responsibility.
This adheres to Bandura’s concept of attention, specifically the notion that learners model behavior on those like themselves—in this case a peer. It also helps identify and develop leaders within your organization. And don’t forget to recognize the hard work of your model employees!
Go a step beyond model behavior. Bring in peers to help design and run trainings. This will reinforce that this employee is both someone who understands their job and someone a new employee can go to for questions or advice. The people who know their role the best are the people actively doing that job! Sure, their boss knows the job and what they‘re doing (they didn’t become the boss for nothing), but managers have different daily responsibilities not always related to the nitty gritty of the work they supervise.
Have your managers or supervisors work with stellar employees to develop and lead effective training when appropriate. This also reinforces collaborative learning beyond the initial training. If someone teaches you something, you’re more likely to go to that person for questions about the thing they taught you.
Embrace social media
If you haven’t already incorporated some sort of social media into your workplace, you might not be living and working in 2016. Employees of all ages and at all levels have some experience with social media, and if your company employs millennials, you’ve got social media experts in every department. In the early days of social media, it was viewed as an unproductive distraction—and it still can be, if not monitored and utilized appropriately.
Sometimes getting up and talking face to face is the way to go, but for quick, immediate, need-based questions, this kind of technology can be valuable. Often a quick message over a company approved social media platform—think Slack, Gchat, Yammer or any number of other platforms—can be the most efficient way to address a pressing need. Adult learners learn most when addressing immediate needs relevant to their work at the moment.
Social media also encourages a strong culture. People like to talk, and chat programs allow for ongoing conversations at the pace of each user. You don’t have to finish a conversation in a few minutes like you do face to face. With chat apps, the conversation can wait while you focus on a task, and when your brain needs a break, you can reenter the conversation, respond, then get back to work.
The modern workplace and modern learners have been profoundly changed by advances in technology. It is no surprise that the social aspects of our relationship with technology have worked their way into work. No matter the current technology, social learning remains a consistent aspect of human education, so it is more important than ever to harness the varieties of human social experience into corporate training.