My colleagues and I talk often about social collaboration and its tepid adoption. The fact is that it’s hard to get employees to use a tool unless they see a real use for it. This is certainly true in learning. Most of the learning management vendors have some kind of social offering. The uptake depends on the efforts made by the learning department staff to integrate social, and how appropriate social is to the specific learning content. Another stumbling block for learning and social is that using social tools is a change from a typical online learning experience, and it demands some change management. Most people don’t embrace change; they need help in learning to use the tool and they need to see that social has positive effects on their learning.

The purpose of social learning is to provide an environment in which learners share experiences and resources and work together. A social learning environment supports conversations, discussions, and learning from each other. I see a number of ways that organizations are beginning to use social learning.

  • Wrapping a discussion group or instructor blog around an eLearning course. An instructor poses a question related to lesson content; learners react to questions and to comments from their classmates. They may agree, disagree, or provide an alternative viewpoint.
  • Using social learning in project work. Instructors involve online students in project work. They collaborate with their fellow students in planning, developing, and presenting the project results.
  • Tapping the experts. Often called expertise location, employees use a keyword search of employee profiles to identify other employees who have expertise in a certain area. They contact the expert(s) via social media, phone, or email for an asynchronous discussion.
  • Leveraging special project networks. A team is assigned a project that requires experimentation and learning based on each other’s work. Data is kept on the site for team members to review. By sharing information and each team member’s results, the group learns from each other, identifies problems, comes up with solutions, and brings its collective knowledge to bear on the project results.
  • Using online group mentoring. Groups of people with the same mentoring objective, like leadership development, work with an online mentor asynchronously. Documents are put online to read and react to, mentees raise leadership issues, and other mentees contribute to discussions. Mentors may give mentees research assignments on a topic and have them share results with the group.

Social learning takes social advocates to encourage, provide social learning experiences, answer questions, and be available to provide support. This is the change management component. Once learners experience valuable real-time interactions, they will become advocates and suggest other ways of learning socially that fit the organization.

What kind of social learning have you used in your organization? Share your successes and challenges.