What whalesong can teach us about social learning

If there are two things that whales are known for, it’s that firstly they’re very large, and secondly, they sing to communicate with one another under the oceans. But did you know that whales learn songs just like humans?

That’s right, whales engage in a form of social learning, meaning that they learn songs in chunks, remixing them and changing the patterns over time.

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Photo by Abigail Lynn on Unsplash

Humans, of course, are learning all the time. Whether it’s the first steps we take as infants, or how to deal the pressures of a new job, we can’t help but learn; we’re hard-wired to adapt to our surroundings. As our environment becomes more blended between the physical and digital world, the cues we take come not only from body language and spoken communication, but from status updates, digital badges, and emojis.

Adaptations like these are often characterised as social learning as they involve interaction among peers, usually leading to a change in attitude and behaviour. In other words, we learn at least as much by watching how people behave than being instructed how to do so.

This has huge implications for the workplace, as Stowe Boyd has pointed out:

“Social learning is really about creating a culture where people’s natural tendency to cooperate leads to people learning new skills and reasoning in context, without the need for (as much) out of context, classroom-style teaching and learning.”

Instead of learning ‘about’ something, we learn through actually doing it. That sounds like a win-win for the workplace, where less time out of the office is welcome news to employers and employees alike.

Social learning happens in the companies around the world, whether intentionally or by accident. Happily, there are ways in which it can be structured - as this post over at eLearning Industry explores. They suggest several ways covered by our enterprise social networking platform, Totara Social, which includes forums, blogs, and gamification. These elements work together to create an environment that employees want to use, rather than have to use.

So why not get in touch with one of our partners, and see how your organisation can benefit from the social learning features of Totara Social?