The modern world of work has become a learning space; the workplace is our classroom. The workplace learning we engage with is no longer a single event with a sole focus. Life is the lesson, and our learning is ongoing, holistic and social.
It all started with a caveman’s drawing on a cave wall. Ever since, our natural human instinct has been to connect, share and discuss our experiences. From birth, we learn from our surroundings; from our relationships, by collaborating with others and by seeking advice. We observe, we think and we enact. By sharing information and ideas in debate and in discussion, we learn and develop. We’re all familiar with the concept of social learning. The 70/20/10 model shows clearly how it is fundamental to our growth, both personally and professionally.
In terms of Learning and Development, we could be forgiven for thinking that social learning is a contemporary idea or a recently developed buzzword. Nothing could be further from the truth. The theories of psychologists (such as Albert Bandura), detailing the social nature of our learning, actually date back to the late 60s.
Before the digital age, the standardised way in which organisations operated left little room for flexibility and the opportunity to learn by shared experience and collaboration. There was an order based on predictability and efficiency. It was all about hierarchy, command and control. The ‘my way or the highway’ approach, where everyone knew their place, would all too often lead to wasted skills and talents.
Thankfully, those days are gone. Organisations have assumed that their Learning and Development programmes have a strong, inbuilt social learning element. They assume that by simply demanding it, social learning will happen. However, it doesn’t necessarily work like that. Social learning is not something that can just be purchased ‘off the shelf’ and implemented. It requires a shift in the workplace culture – a change in organisational behaviour.
We learn to work and we work to learn; Technology allows us to build the networks for cooperative learning. The workforce is more diverse than ever before and people are able to work in different ways. Forward thinking businesses see the need to follow the 70/20/10 model and to use the many benefits of social learning in their training programmes.
The benefits to businesses of social learning are clear:
Employees’ engagement in the learning process is boosted. Better engagement is the holy grail of Learning and Development in the workplace. Through social learning, learners view their training in a different light, because they’re able to engage in a more familiar way.
Learners become self-organised through collaboration. Businesses move forward because of teams of people collaborating, and supporting each other, rather than individuals working under their own steam. Fundamentally, social learning feeds teamwork, which forms the roots of our learning network.
It can be used across initiatives; from long standing operational training to new initiatives around change management. From onboarding new staff, to facilitating the career progression of longer term employees, it has a valuable role. It’s a cultural thing – a part of the workplace – so it works across the board. For that reason, all training programmes should have social learning at their heart. By working closely together, colleagues learn together. Sharing information and experience benefits everybody’s learning.
Employee retention is improved when employees feel supported and empowered. The revolving door of retention is an omnipresent worry for business, particularly when considering Learning and Development initiatives. Again, it’s a cultural thing. Employees are far more likely to want to stay in a business which encourages and supports them through its workplace culture. Social learning allows everyone a say, and a chance to learn and grow in a holistic way.
It appeals to Millennials. We can’t ignore our Millennial friends. They are a sizeable and growing part of the workplace. Social networking and interaction is at the centre of how they live, act, and communicate. They are the digital natives, the generation who have grown with new technology and not only will they want to be able to learn socially, they’ll positively expect it.
A workplace culture based on social learning is an open, transparent and honest way to support employees’ professional development. By building it into training programmes it improves productivity and profitability. Its success, its power, is in the fact that its natural. It’s what we do already – how we learn already. By implementing this culture into the workplace, businesses can directly benefit from the simple and innate strength of human connections.
Social learning is in us; we work better when we work together.