Think of the most enriching learning experiences at workplace today – where did they happen? Or, when you were stuck with a problem and were looking to troubleshoot it – where did you go? Chances are, you would have connected with an expert online – either within your organizational network or on the Internet.
Such examples have come to define what we know as ‘Social Learning’ today, which essentially embodies a framework for easy content creation and expertise sharing using social networking within communities, the objective being to enhance learning retention while reducing overall learning costs.
However, while social learning is purported to result from conversations among users using social tools, it does not necessarily convert to proportionately learning from each other. This is precisely why learning professionals the world over are losing their sleep over how to extract the maximum value for every ‘Social learning’ buck that they spent, but relatively few have figured out the way.
So, what makes social learning special? In other words, what are the real benefits that underpin the social premise? Firstly, learning is no longer Individual-centric – the ability to connect with others and make sense of disparate, disjointed sources of information by way of collective construction of knowledge and collaboratively driving assimilation is what makes social learning today.
But why doesn’t social learning always work?
Misinterpretation of Technology: The problem is the use of technology alone to drive social learning – Social learning is not technology; humans learn in a social context — therefore, being able to converse and interact with others in a group is important for learning.
Oversimplification: The problem with the current approach is that people are embedding traditional learning interventions into social media and driving it as their ‘social learning’ agenda, little realizing that this contributes to failures and a disillusioned learning audience.
Confusing it with eLearning: The problem arises from using it synonymously as e-learning, which describes any use of technology to teach anything by design or on purpose.
No Defined ROI: Social learning returns cannot be supported by any data; hence, no way to demonstrate ROI.
Is there a way around?
To address the core issues with social learning, we constructed this social learning framework termed “High-Impact Social Learning (HISL)” to apply the experiential Learning model (suggested by Kolb in 1975) in a Social context, supported by advanced analytics, which would create enriched learning experiences and drive desirable and measurable Performance outcomes at individual and group levels.
The High-Impact Social Learning (HISL) framework could be conceptualized by plotting social learning interventions across two key dimensions: “Cognitive Complexity” and “Collegiality” or “the intensity of collaboration.”
Moving forward, we see an opportunity to effectively leverage social learning within organizations by way of integrating tools such as blogs, communities and wikis, embedded within the Experiential Learning framework (derived from Kolb), supported by learning analytics that integrate measurements into traditional enterprise metrics such as enrollments, completion, portfolio management, user feedback and evaluation.
However, having a framework is only part of the deal – the other part is communicating the pertinent values that this framework offers – needless to say, you can’t force employees to use a framework unless they see a practical utility for it in their day-to-day learning needs. Here’s where the learning & knowledge function of an organization can play a critical role in the integration of social learning.