At a recent team meeting it was exciting to hear how social learning was at play. From peer-to-peer sharing in support of a client’s Lean implementation, to sales representatives partaking in strategic planning best practices in a virtual classroom session, to a project team collaborating on process improvements in the development of a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), the value of social learning was front and center.
Social learning is not a new concept in the business community – we work in teams, seek out peers for guidance and information, engage in collaborative problem-solving, and learn together in classes. Leveraging the knowledge capital of employees by sharing information and expertise in the workplace is a proven business practice with a long history. Whether through informal mentoring or a simple water-cooler chat, social learning is a powerful process that connects employees with subject matter expertise to employees facing problems for which that expertise is relevant. The business world’s dispersed workforce, abundant workload, tight schedules, and evolving economy, confirm the need for a more nimble workforce capable of responding faster to marketplace and customer change.
Social learning has the potential to become a driving force in talent development. Formalizing social learning – a once face-to-face activity – in online environments better facilitates sharing and collaboration across business locations. It also allows an organization to share knowledge in the broader context of harvesting and capturing best-practices, and identifying challenges that can be prioritized for resolution.
Maher has worked with numerous clients to create ways to reap the benefits of social learning, including online discussion forums, FAQs, and full-fledged Communities of Practice. We’ve also leveraged online social tools in more formal learning environments such as virtual institutes and corporate MOOCS to increase employee engagement and peer-to-peer sharing.
The Brandon Hall Group, an independent research firm, collected metrics from 70 companies that measured the business impact of social learning tools. The results were positive – they found that employees were using social learning tools to engage one another in conversations centered on specific learning goals and objectives, providing support and know-how to their colleagues, and completing tasks associated with their learning engagements.
A 2012 Towards Maturity benchmarking study also found that:
Whether creating discussion forums around a particular topic or project – such as new product development, marketing campaigns, or businesses processes – or threading social learning into more structured learning environments, the benefits of this collaborative learning technique are sure to get the closer attention of organizations in the year ahead.
 Randy Emelo. Social, Informal Learning Can Be Measured. Chief Learning Officer. January 29, 2014 [http://www.clomedia.com/articles/social-informal-learning-can-be-measured]