As learning and development professionals, we often focus on going beyond learning programs to create an organization-wide learning culture. This often includes taking extra steps to develop resources and programs that make learning and development an enjoyable, functional part of employees’ roles. While there are a variety of ways in which a strong learning culture can be created, one of the best ways is through developing a learning community within your organization. By leveraging social learning your organization can create an environment in which employees value, respect, and engage with their development.
What is Social Learning?
First, let’s take a look at what social learning is and how it can be used effectively within your organization. The broad theory of social learning proposes that individuals learn and develop their own habits, ideas, and actions by observing the behaviors of others. Much of how we learn is based off of social learning experiences, especially when in earlier development stages (i.e. learning how to walk, talk, and interact in social settings). Furthermore, the social learning theory asserts that learning can take place through both observation of behavior and directed instruction. While this may seem most applicable to children and young adults, social learning is also very important for adults. Much of the behavior we learn as adults comes from observing and imitating others, especially the way in which we communicate.
Simply put, social learning is an incredibly impactful form of learning, even for adults. This is apparent in many professional onboarding and new hire training programs, where learners are often given the opportunity to “shadow” others in their role. While organizations tend to use various forms of social learning for onboarding, they often fail to take those same social learning principles and apply them to broader, organization-wide training programs. In doing so, many businesses are missing out on opportunities to engage and educate their employees.
Why Aren’t Organizations Leveraging Social Learning?
Therefore, if it’s such a strong educational method, why aren’t organizations utilizing broad-scale social learning? In most cases, it’s simply too much to manage. Social learning requires a variety of proactive and synchronous elements. Many organizations choose to utilize learning programs that are simple and efficient, as opposed to complex and effective. Social learning requires employees to interact with one another often and with intent to learn, which can be difficult to coordinate and manage. Furthermore, social learning programs often take more time than their counterparts, which can be a deterrent.
The Benefits of Organizational Social Learning
Fortunately, the positive impacts of social learning often outweigh the negatives. Not only is social learning a more natural way to learn, but it is also generally more productive and sustainable than traditional learning methods. Furthermore, employees are often better informed on general business knowledge and can leverage and build upon the innately collaborative nature of social learning. Perhaps most importantly, social learning can help your organization create a positive learning culture and community.
Social learning is one of the best ways to shake up traditional one-and-done training programs and bring learning into the flow of work. By creating learning programs in which coworkers share knowledge and experiences and solve problems together, your organization can create a learning and development culture that goes beyond click-through training programs.
The Importance of Creating a Corporate Learning Community
Simply put, a corporate learning community is an ecosystem of professionals within an organization that come together in pursuit of group learning. The theory behind this type of learning was mentioned above, and these communities aim to become better individuals, employees, and professionals through social learning. When implemented correctly, these learning communities can become the cornerstone of organization-wide acceptance and value of L&D initiatives.
One of the ways that learning communities can impact company culture is through putting their learners in charge of their own development. Since the emergence of wide-scale remote work two years ago, employees have been given much more freedom in how they work, and many expect that freedom to transfer to their learning and development. By leveraging social learning to create a corporate learning community, you can help learners stay engaged and manage their own development.
What Does Social Learning Look Like?
There are many ways you can implement social learning in your organization. Here are some of our favorite strategies that can be used to maximize learning community success.
Create Forums. Creating forums for your employees is a great way to promote a community of learning and development. Employees can access these virtual platforms to ask others for help, discuss common issues and/or topics, and have a resource that is always available to them.
Curate Learning Resources. Create learning and development programs that are designed specifically for your employees. This will make L&D programs more enjoyable for learners, thus leading to better engagement.
Promote and Market your Community. Ensure that learners are aware of resources you’ve created for them. This may seem like a given, but many learning communities can fail simply because employees are unaware of their existence
Moving into the Future with a Corporate Learning Culture
When developing your next learning and development program, consider how it contributes to broader organizational culture and education. If you do choose to incorporate social learning into your strategy, keep three key areas in mind: representation, participation, and recognition. Maximize community design by using SMEs from various departments to build the perfect solution. Focus on participation by as many employees as possible. And, finally, recognize and reward learners who proactively engage with and benefit from social learning community resources.