There’s no doubt that social media has exploded over the last decade. Last year, the number of social media users globally hit 3 billion. The average person will spend over five years of his or her life using social media – why not encourage your employees to spend at least some of that time learning instead of watching another cat video?

In 2015, LinkedIn acquired online learning company for $1.5 billion – an unprecedented amount for both LinkedIn and the training industry as a whole. The acquisition signaled the important role formal training can play as a revenue stream for a company like LinkedIn and that social media can play in formal training, since premium LinkedIn members can access courses. Even Facebook is moving into the office, with Workplace by Facebook, a communication and collaboration tool, though it hasn’t expanded its offerings to training (yet?).

“Social media has training uses before, during, and after training sessions, as an innovative and effective method for delivering content,” writes Renie McClay, providing as one example the ability to connect learners with subject matter experts using Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Skype or Periscope. Sure enough, LinkedIn today announced a new peer-to-peer learning feature, which enables LinkedIn members to ask questions from other members, including LinkedIn Learning course instructors and peers.

“Our research showed that people learn better and retain more information when they are able to interact with subject matter experts, along with peers, to pose questions and collaborate,” says Albert Hwang, senior product manager at LinkedIn Learning. “Whether it be a charismatic instructor, a clever textbook author or the peer that asks a great question, the opportunity to interact with that person, to practice with them, can make all the difference in making learning ‘stick.’”

Last year, Karl Mehta, founder and CEO of EdCast, wrote for, “The best form of knowledge is the tacit knowledge of the subject matter experts (SMEs) inside our own organizations.” He cites as an example Google, which “moved 75 percent of all its learning and knowledge-sharing to a model it calls ‘G2G’ – Googler-to-Googler.” This “democratization of expertise,” as he calls it, makes learning more efficient by freeing up training professionals’ time to focus only on courses and programs that require more in-depth work. It also empowers employees to share their expertise with each other, improving employee engagement.

Of course, the knowledge and skills of LinkedIn’s community of experts is outside of your control as a learning leader. However, if you want to use an internal network of SMEs to promote social and collaborative learning at your organization, here are some best practices to keep in mind.

  1. Train your SMEs to communicate clearly and effectively.
  2. Make sure dialogue between SMEs and learners is two-way, so SMEs can improve the way they share information going forward.
  3. Capture data on informal learning and knowledge-sharing through a learning record store or other tool.
  4. Incentivize participation, and use marketing techniques to spread the word.
  5. Incorporate social learning in formal training programs as part of courses or to complement learning. Hwang says that blended learning programs “allow for hands-on application and collaboration with experts,” providing a best-of-both-worlds approach.

Social media is not going away anytime soon. Take advantage of the high engagement offered by these types of platforms – not to mention the ability to connect people who may never otherwise speak – to encourage collaboration and social learning in your organization.