With the advent of new ways of working, as well as new workplace structures, learning and development (L&D) is increasingly taking note of the power of social and collaborative learning. In the workplace, this type of learning helps to build a strong company culture by strengthening social bonds between coworkers and provides answers during employees’ time of need. It can also lead to improved speed and retention of learning, as social, collaborative learning opens up lines of communication between learners at all levels—upending the top-down model of more traditional training approaches.

However, the shift to remote and hybrid work has limited social interaction among employees, which has impacted informal learning in the workplace. Employees can no longer walk to a colleague’s desk and ask a simple question; they must now set up a virtual meeting or send an instant message via chat.

To foster collaboration and enhance informal learning for dispersed teams, L&D must leverage technology to help employees connect and share knowledge in new ways. This requires L&D to reimagine social and collaborative learning in this new world of work.

Social Learning in a Virtual Environment

Social learning plays a critical role in workplace learning, as well as employee engagement. In fact, brain science research indicates that effective learning is dependent on interaction and strong team cohesion—all of which proved to be surprisingly difficult during the initial shift to remote workplaces.

Additionally, the 70-20-10 model states that informal, hands-on experience in the office, along with learning from other employees, made up 90% of the way employees learn. Pre-COVID-19, this type of learning was taken for granted. But the removal of the common social setting quickly exposed the gaps in our learning modalities.

Tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are great as supplements to in-person learning and collaboration, but on their own, in the hybrid or remote workplace, they can fall short. For instance, body language and tone — essential elements of human communication — don’t always translate over video or chat. Employees must learn strategies to effectively communicate in virtual tools. And they don’t provide the ongoing opportunity for information interaction.

Over the past several years, we’ve seen learning management systems (LMSs) and other learning platforms integrate interactive features and elements to help bridge the geographic divide between employees and generate real connection. These social collaboration and learning features allow employees to interact with the content and provide their own comments and reactions. Employees can also share user-generated content, such as videos, to help their peers and share knowledge across the business. By creating devoted channels or discussion boards, not just for work-related topics, but for topics that employees can bond over, like TV shows or cooking, organizations can help to foster the types of environments in which impromptu communication can be sparked.

L&D plays a critical role in developing a culture of communication and collaboration and must be there to lead the way, showing how to effectively use the collaborative tools at their disposal. This will enable employees to connect and share information in a more organized and impactful way.

The Qualities of a Healthy Social Learning Culture

Learning doesn’t occur in a vacuum, so it shouldn’t be treated in that way. When looked at from the perspective of organizational capability, a healthy social learning environment exists when learners are empowered to take charge of their own learning experience, as well as to see the effects that their learning has on the overall health of the organization. Employees will be more likely to seek out learning opportunities when they understand the interconnected nature of their knowledge and skill growth and the health of the organization.

Creative and innovative solutions are an outcome of a successful learning culture. At both the individual and collective level, upper management and L&D need to work together to foster an environment where learner contributions are valued and recognized. Additionally, it’s essential to recognize the abilities that specific teams and individuals bring to the table.

Managers play a critical role in cultivating a social learning environment. By participating alongside other learners, they can be part of the learning process and share how learning applies to their job and development. Managers can also provide developmental opportunities that enable learners to self-manage and direct their own learning journey.

The Future of Social, Collaborative Learning

With obvious impacts on employee performance, social learning must continue to rank high on every organization’s list of priorities. By taking a holistic look at learner needs, while utilizing the latest technology, L&D will be able to provide employees with the resources they need to be successful in their roles. As technology and the modern workplace continues to evolve, L&D will play an essential role in preparing learners to effectively work together and build a culture of learning, regardless of where employees are located.


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