This article has been adapted from part of a recent ebook, ‘Preparing for the Future of Workplace Learning: 7 Challenges and Innovations for Changing Times’. The ebook reflects on the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent remote working have had on learning practices across culture, technology, measurement, and learning design.
In a year that saw the majority of us lack the human contact and connection we’re used to from our physical workplaces, opportunities for social learning became more important than ever.
Social Learning and Our Need for Connection
It’s not a coincidence that in the early days of the pandemic and international lockdowns, many engaged in Zoom quizzes, Skype calls, and downloaded apps like Houseparty. Connection with others is a hugely important part of our lives, and an important part of our learning.
Social learning has historically been hard to pull off. Despite this, in an online knowledge-sharing session we ran with senior L&D professionals during lockdown, most agreed that social and collaborative learning strategies were key to creating meaningful experiences in blended, virtual distance learning.
We believe this is true of learning design regardless of distance. The pandemic just showed us all how important it is.
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The Challenges of Social and Collaborative Learning
Social learning has been something of a priority goal for L&D teams for a long time, but few organizations achieve what they set out to with it. This can be down to systems, learning culture, or colleague dynamic. There are many reasons this strategy is a challenge for L&D.
However, over the course of the pandemic, we’ve seen a number of organizations really embrace social learning. While some organizations have the technology in place but continue to struggle with uptake, others have seen huge shifts in learning culture.
Netflix and YouTube Styles of Learning
During a knowledge-sharing session with senior L&D professionals, we had a discussion about different styles of learning. One organization, for example, was looking to shift from the curated playlists of Netflix-style learning to a bigger focus on User-Generated Content (UGC) in a YouTube-style model of learning.
We love this analogy, and you can find out more about the topic in this blog from our sister company PeopleFluent. It’s an incredibly exciting time for learning in this particular organization. In the first few months of the initiative, it saw considerable uptake with over 1,000 user-generated contributions uploaded to its system.
Social learning can be hard to achieve, but it’s potentially the most important game-changer of our time. If we can successfully implement social learning best practices while learning at a distance, it can mean big things for learning once we move to a post-pandemic world.
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Learning in the Flow of Work
Social and collaborative learning are what we would also describe as learning in the flow of work, and interest in this area has maintained throughout the year. eLearning and event-based training have their place and are clearly critical for delivering a wide range of behavioral change in our learners.
However, a strategic move from a formal learning paradigm to learning in the flow of work mirrors not only the way people need to learn but also meets their practical needs and drives continuous performance improvement by stealth.
Simple knowledge-sharing is so prominent in the workplace that the majority (55%) of employees surveyed in 2018 said they turn to their colleagues first to fill any knowledge gaps. This is before they go to the managers, the internet, or any learning system their organization has in place.
Alongside the social and well-being benefits of encouraging collaboration in the workplace, the fact is that it already happens. So finding ways to integrate this into your learning design can be a fantastic way to boost learning engagement and information retention.
- Social and collaborative learning can improve learning engagement.
- People already learn from each other—designing specific opportunities for this only serves your learning strategy.
- Getting social and collaborative learning design right can be challenging, but it presents great opportunities for the future of learning.