There’s been a lot of talk about social learning, yet most of what has been shared involves online or blended learning. Why not social learning in the classroom? Many of the recent instructor-led training (ILT) trends have elements of social learning. Below are at least four ways to incorporate social learning into the classroom.

Attention and the Flipped Classroom

Social learning is based on the behavior modeling theory where people learn new things by observing others. The first step of this learning through observation and the modeling process is that you have to pay attention, otherwise you aren’t observing anything. Isn’t that the whole reason that many university classes and now corporate training classes have moved to the flipped classroom method? There’s no better way to get groups to pay attention than to put them in control of the discussion and allow the learners to determine the agenda. So assign pre-work, often online e-learning modules that include knowledge check questions that you can track or not, but that the facilitator uses to gauge the level of knowledge. Then, the facilitator asks, “What content was most challenging? What questions do you have?” Let the learner’s questions guide the class. By gathering answers to questions from the class or even assigning questions to teams or pairs, you encourage peer collaboration and group problem solving. Learners today come to class for an experience – not a lecture or instruction.

Retention: Peers Teaching Peers and Peer Coaching

Another way to incorporate social learning is to have peers teaching peers and include peer coaching. In order to model behavior, learners must retain what they observed. Take away large group lectures and replace them with group discussions or knowledge huddles. If learners are in teams, they attend different discussions and return to their teams and ‘teach’ their topic to their team mates. This closely mirrors the real-world. According to Bersin by Deloitte, 80 percent of workforce learning occurs through on-the-job interactions with peers, teammates and managers. To ensure all key points are taught around the topics, online or printed materials can be created as reference material, or even follow-up online learning.

Imitation through Real Plays

Next in the social learning modeling behavior process is performing and practicing the positive behavior that is observed. An important adjustment to truly apply social learning is to transform the role play into a ‘real play.’ Bring in individuals who can realistically take on the roles, either managers, colleagues, or clients. And for the social aspect, have learners prepare together. Don’t tell them which person is going to conduct the real-play until a few minutes before. Then, during the real play, anyone not real-playing is an observer filling out an observer scorecard. This allows the observers to become actively involved when it comes time to debrief. If there is a score being assigned at the end, allow the observers ‘score’ to be part of the final. Time permitting, the real play can be conducted and debriefed multiple times. Not only does this process incorporate social learning, it also appeals to the growing numbers of young leaders who when surveyed said that their teammates are the most important people at work.

Reinforcement and Motivation through Simulation and Gamification

The final way to incorporate social learning into the classroom is through simulation and gamification. Gamification has been a growing trend, and when combined with simulation, can really bring social learning theory to life. The ultimate goal of classroom training, and social learning, is learning. However, observation does not necessarily equate to behavior change or learning. Yet, there is a higher likelihood for learning and behavior change when participants see a person taking an action and being rewarded for that action (or conversely, punished for an inappropriate action or inaction). This is the basis of simulation, and more specifically what is often called “best practice” computer-based simulation. Place learners in teams and have them collectively take on a role in a computer simulation. As they make decisions, they follow a decision-tree where they experience the outcome of their decisions – good or bad – in terms of reactions of other characters in the simulation, future events, and on their scores.

With all teams starting from the same place, final scores can create competition and be used to incorporate gamification elements such as a leaderboard. According to Bersin by Doloitte, tor a young generation of future leaders eager to receive training and development, even more so than flexible hours and cash bonuses, using simulation and gamification can immediately engage learners and create the ‘pull’ necessary to ensure learning and behavior change.

With leadership development spending increasing, but instructor-led training decreasing, what are the most effective organizations doing? High performing organizations today are transforming their instructor-led training into a more engaging and effective experience by incorporating social learning. Millennials and adult learners alike want to learn together.

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