Social Learning as an Employee Development Solution

Guest Post by workplace learning, performance, and communication expert Halelly Azulay, President of TalentGrow and author of  Employee Development on a Shoestring

Photo by arvindgrover via Flickr

What is Social Learning?

Social learning, or Learning 2.0, is a general name given to multiple collaborative online tools for sharing knowledge, building relationships, and interacting with content and with other members of the online community. These tools allow learners to learn independently, more quickly, and more efficiently, and to be more productive and effective as a result. Most of the content in these systems is user generated and user rated for interest, relevance, and helpfulness. The tools most commonly used by organizations for social learning purposes are wikis and social networking tools such as discussion boards, blogs, video uploading platforms, and podcasting.

How Does Social Learning Work?

Every employee with access to an Internet connection and a computer can benefit from social learning as a development tool. Regardless of their levels of expertise or tenure, all employees can benefit from sharing information, creating connections, and getting access to the cross-cutting organizational body of expertise and knowledge of other employees, anywhere, anytime.

New employees can gain information easily and quickly to help them onboard more smoothly. Seasoned employees can discuss and learn from their peers across the organization and expand their network of internal contacts. And subject matter experts can easily document and share their knowledge of organizational products, services, processes, procedures, workarounds and shortcuts, and systems. And all employees can share expertise and intelligence gathered from outside the organization such as vendor information, industry news and knowledge, client needs and feedback, and competitive insights.

Managers and leaders can use these tools to improve team and organizational performance and gain insight into key employee concerns and interests. They can also use social learning tools for building and developing teams as well as providing performance support mechanisms to teams and individual staff members.

What Are the Benefits of Social Learning?

Benefits to the learner include:

  • Credible information and advice (peer-judged by other users).
  • Just-in-time, fast, and targeted learning opportunities.
  • Sense of ownership of learning process.
  • Wide access to the full organizational network.
  • Creativity and new thinking about business issues and challenges.
  • Increased job satisfaction.
  • Higher engagement.
  • Skill and knowledge development.
  • Career development.
  • Positive attitude toward learning, which leads to learning more efficiently.

Benefits to the organization include:

  • Performance improvement and support.
  • Reduced learning costs and increased efficiencies.
  • Reduced errors.
  • Improved organizational performance.
  • Improved onboarding process.
  • Knowledge management.
  • Improved launch of new products or organizational initiatives.
  • Performance support for the organization’s client-facing workforce.
  • Improved relevance and accuracy of documentation.
  • Increased collaboration among geographically dispersed employees.
  • Continuous learning culture.
  • Improved cohesion of disparate workforce.

Social Learning Implementation Tips

  1. Social learning is here to stay. Face the fact—social learning is not going away. It’s going to grow in prevalence and importance, so we might as well take the leap and embrace it.
  2. Change will happen. Social learning is in its infancy, and it will continue to evolve.
  3. Social learning is not enough. Blend it with other development methods—social learning is complementary, not meant to replace other methods.
  4. Take baby steps. Avoid the all-or-nothing approach—phase it in slowly, incrementally.
  5. Help it grow. Create some seed content and get some early commenters to get the conversation started. This grassroots effort will build momentum and lead to culture change over time.
  6. The learners are your target. Maintain your focus on the learners, not the system, the content, or the bells and whistles. It must serve the learners’ needs and address their expectations, or they won’t find it valuable and won’t use it.
  7. Listen to users. Ask them questions and be open to changing what you’re doing along the way.
  8. Balance flexibility and control. Strike the delicate balance between allowing full freedom for the open-space “sandbox” experience and measuring metrics so rigidly that it inhibits or restricts the ease of participation, collaboration, and users’ interaction with content and each other.
Source: Azulay, H., Employee Development on a Shoestring (ASTD Press, 2012)

Have you and/or your organization experimented with social learning as an employee development method? Please join me and share your thoughts, experiences, and questions on Tuesday, March 6th at 9 a.m. PST/12 p.m. EST for a webcast that delves into the realities of employee development and how leveraging social networking and media can create learner-driven, learner-generated employee education opportunities.


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