Social learning happens every day, both in and out of the workplace. If you've ever tweeted a question like 'How do I tune a ukulele?', read forum replies to find out about a health condition or asked a native speaker of a language to help check your grammar, this is all social learning in action. Most of the time we don't even think about these as learning activities - they just happen as part of our normal lives. With so many L&D teams wanting to integrate learning into employees' normal workdays, it stands to reason that we might look to social learning for inspiration. But in reality, many organisations fail to support it in any meaningful way. In fact, many businesses block access to sites like YouTube, Twitter and Reddit, many of which can be useful for asking and finding answers to questions quickly.
It's not about reinventing the wheel. Social learning doesn't require a big, expensive initiative to get it off the ground. For many businesses, simply improving and encouraging communication can be enough, whether that means switching to more efficient communication tools, allowing instant messaging or setting up a central social learning platform to facilitate the asking of questions and sharing of knowledge. Often, people don't know who to ask for a quick answer to their question, so allowing employees to pose a question once to an entire group, or even the entire organisation, can make it much faster and more efficient to get the answer they need and carry on with their task.
So what is the business impact of failing to support social learning? Firstly, it can negatively impact productivity. If people have to spend longer seeking answers to their questions, this is eating into time they could be spending working. Secondly, social learning comes so naturally to most people that forcing them into rigid formal learning every time they have a question can reduce morale and make the learning process unnecessarily complicated and bureaucratic. Social learning is also a relatively cheap way to learn, as the expertise already exists in your organisation and just needs to be unlocked with the right systems and communication channels.
Lars Hyland recently wrote a piece for Training Industry called 'Why businesses fail to support social learning' which delves into this topic in more detail. You can find the web version of this here, or browse the digital magazine here.