In recent years, digital learning has become one of the most popular forms of learning in the UK – particularly for workplace training. As many businesses have continued to adopt the flexible working models that were necessitated by the pandemic, online learning has continued to boom thanks to its flexibility, accessibility and cost-effectiveness.
However, to make the most of their investments in employee development, organisations often look for further ways to enhance their online training. For many, the solution is the adoption of social learning techniques. In this article, we will discuss the benefits of integrating social learning strategies into your digital learning, as well as practical tips on how to implement these into your learning and development programmes.
Social learning happens when we observe others do things, talk to one another, and share learnings with each other. This style of learning has clear benefits:
Studies show that when we engage in group discussion, we are able to retain 50% of what we have just learned. This statistic only improves when we teach others, which allows us to retain 90% of our learning.
When we discuss and share our learning with others, we may find new perspectives on the content we have just studied and learn even more.
Implementing social learning strategies into your digital learning can also boost course completion rates. Harvard Business School found that when social learning strategies were implemented into their online courses, completion rates increased by a huge 85%.
Perhaps the most significant advantage of social learning is that we use it naturally every day, both consciously and unconsciously. Because of this, businesses do not need to assign as much resource into this strategy, as your employees will observe and learn from their colleagues almost every day as part of their job roles.
Bringing colleagues together to share subject matter expertise is a cost-effective way to help upskill employees and supplement digital learning. With almost zero cost involved to your business, social learning strategies are considered to be the best supplement to more formal learning on the same topic.
When employees know who to ask about a topic, the information spreads, and, over time, a knowledge sharing network can be created within your company. This encourages sharing and collaboration, improving interpersonal relationships, boosting morale and providing a sustainable source of information within the business.
Within any business, there are always employees who are quiet or afraid to ask questions. Enhancing digital training with social learning can provide the perfect forum for these employees to thrive. While online learning will allow these individuals to learn in private and at their own pace, the introduction of social learning can encourage them to engage and build relationships with colleagues they wouldn’t normally converse with, as well as learn by listening to others who may feel more comfortable discussing their questions and voicing their opinions in a group setting.
Social learning encompasses four key components: observation, assessment, imitation and identification. Understanding these components will help you best identify and utilise the social learning strategies that will support your organisation’s digital training.
Social learning in this context happens by observing the behaviour of other people. Observational learning allows employees to adapt and approach new situations and problems more quickly, instilling them with added confidence that supports their theoretical digital learning.
The next step in social learning involves assessing the observed person’s behaviour. Often, we do this to decide if the outcomes and reactions that result from that behaviour are desirable. For example, if an employee is learning sales skills and assesses a colleague delivering a sales pitch, they will look to see which parts of the pitch were a success, and which could use further refinement. There is often not enough data available to learn this straight away, which is why it is often necessary to assess similar situations repeatedly in order to develop a better understanding.
After observation and assessment, imitation occurs. This is when a colleague will try to replicate what they have learned on their own. At this stage, repeated positive and constructive feedback is vital to build an employee’s confidence and competence with the subject being learned.
A large part of social learning is the idea that people want to identify with others. By allowing your employees to learn with and from one another, you will assist in reinforcing their learning and developing stronger interpersonal relationships. This can have a huge impact on colleague engagement and morale, and shouldn’t be overlooked when integrating social learning strategies into your digital training.
Understanding the benefits and components of social learning is often only half the battle. The real challenge is developing effective social strategies that integrate into your digital training and work for the needs of both your business and its employees.
To make this style of workplace learning a success, organisations should consider implementing the following tips into their learning programmes:
In cases where you have several colleagues embarking on the same digital course, creating a specific channel or group within your preferred platform can be a simple and effective tool to integrate social learning into digital learning.
These groups or channels can be used by employees to discuss their learning, ask questions, share progress, and more. This not only reinforces learning and allows staff to retain more information, it can provide a much needed support network for your workers as they upskill.
As many of us continue to work flexibly from various locations, the ability to connect with colleagues, especially to facilitate social learning, has proven to be increasingly challenging. Assigning a mentor to your staff as they embark on their digital learning journey can facilitate and enhance their training.
Access to a trusted mentor not only provides colleagues with an expert to ask questions to and enhance their understanding, it is also a great way for them to build relationships and access additional support. In fact, 86% of professionals say that having access to a mentor is an important factor in them staying with an organisation, so utilising this resource as part of your digital training could also help you retain top staff.
Another great method for integrating social learning strategies into digital learning is work shadowing. While online learning provides a flexible and convenient approach to theoretical learning, allowing your employees to shadow colleagues who already possess those skills provides practical knowledge to reinforce the theories they have learned.
Often, as we begin to put new information into practice, questions can arise. The easiest way to address these immediate questions as and when they occur is through the development of FAQs and forums. By giving your employees access to these resources, colleagues will be able to quickly self-serve solutions to their problems and fill any knowledge gaps by asking questions or searching for pre-existing answers.
Got a subject matter expert in your workplace? Ask them to develop a guide or wiki on the subject to help those in the process of upskilling. Wikis and guides are a fast, cost-effective and evergreen way to integrate social learning into your digital training. With minor tweaks, these wikis can easily be kept up-to-date and stored in an accessible drive for all to access if employees need quick answers to knowledge gaps.
Often when businesses choose to train their employees in a particular skill, those skills already exist within the business. To assist with digital learning, organisations should leverage these internal experts to reinforce and aid colleagues in their learning. By giving your people access to this expertise, they will benefit from practical knowledge and personalised advice to help them quickly troubleshoot issues and gain a more practical perspective on the skills being learnt.
Digital learning is an accessible, effective and popular training solution with businesses across the country. However, to ensure your employees make the most of this learning, the effective integration of social learning strategies into your digital training can reap multiple rewards for both your employees and your business.
To make these strategies a success, businesses must first understand the needs and learning styles of their people, and give them a forum to learn from each other, share perspectives and ask questions.
Organisations that understand the effectiveness of blending these learning styles could experience higher productivity, better performance and increased efficiencies. Companies that fail could face higher employee attrition, lower training completion rates and even lower profits.
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