Social learning is a particularly popular topic in corporate learning and development (L&D) as companies look to leverage the knowledge of employees and subject matter experts (SMEs) throughout their organization. It’s not a new concept; in fact, it may be the oldest method of learning. It involves learning from other people by observing what they’re doing, asking questions, and sharing knowledge and resources. In its simplest form, social learning could involve a tap on the shoulder and an impromptu deskside consult between co-workers.

You can bolster social learning with efforts ranging from blog programs to discussion forums to subject matter directories. However, considering social distancing, technology is playing a pivotal role in creating virtual training environments that foster conversation and collaboration.

To do so effectively, consider the following tips:

1. Take Advantage of Technology

Firstly, and most importantly with face-to-face interaction limited, it’s imperative to enlist a cloud-based platform so you can deliver virtual training anywhere, anytime. That way, all users will need is a browser and internet connection.

You’ll also need two-way communication between instructors and trainees, as well as among the trainees themselves. Screen-sharing capability is table stakes; instructors need to be able to share information with trainees and access their desktop to help with issues and monitor activity. It’s the digital equivalent of pushing a workbook back and forth across a desk or discussing and revising details of a project on a whiteboard.

Availability and interaction are the foundation of social collaboration. To bring added support, leverage course materials in ways that people prefer to digest information. High on that list is using a platform with the ability to embed interactive content — particularly video, with its powerful combination of visual and audio.

2. Encourage Interaction

When employees are confused during training, it runs the risk of creating a learning gap that only grows, especially when it comes to complex topics like technology and software. To alleviate this concern, make sure your platform has text chat so participants can virtually “raise their hands” with questions and receive the assistance they need, when they need it. It’s also a great way to stimulate conversation (yes, you want students talking in class!).

Remember, staying focused during a remote class isn’t easy, so you need to find ways to engage learners and encourage them to engage with each other. For instance, virtual whiteboards and collaboration rooms can enable people from across the globe to work as if they were all gathered around the same table. This type of knowledge crowdsourcing is key to cultivating understanding, generating solutions and building camaraderie.

Further, give learners something dynamic to talk about by providing hands-on experiences, like access to the actual software tools they’ll be using to solve problems in real business scenarios. Conducted in environments that won’t impact infrastructure, trainees can safely fail, discuss their efforts and learn from peers, and then reset and try again until they do it right. When they do, they can apply these lessons immediately.

3. Timing Is Everything

Social learning happens on a just-in-time basis. From discussion forums to picking up the phone and picking someone’s brain, social learners enlist the resources available to them, on demand. This approach allows them to find exactly the answers they need and quickly apply them to a task.

To parallel this experience and bring added support to employees, give them the ability to access training and content in a way that fits their schedule. One way of doing so is self-paced learning, which doesn’t follow a predetermined schedule but progresses according to the learner’s preferences. Self-paced learning usually entails making all materials and resources available at the start of a course and giving learners the ability to submit assignments and tests at any time. With this approach, learners have full control of when and how they want to engage with the material and finish their coursework when it’s most convenient for them.

The right platform can provide instructors with the ability to monitor progress, a way to field questions, details on usage, and analytics to assess the effectiveness of the program and instructors. While these capabilities don’t entail social learning, per se, they do answer that on-demand need and can facilitate collaboration.

In Software Training, Social Learning Is Only Human

Humans are social animals and, as such, naturally inclined to want to be part of a group. When employees learn from and teach their peers, it forms bonds. Employees feel they’re part of a group that can accomplish great things.

Social learning stimulates collaboration, and when collaboration becomes part of a company’s DNA, it enhances corporate culture. If you want to grow your company and drive results, be human: Enable your employees to make training a social affair.

Editor’s note: Don’t miss our infographic “Creating a Social Learning Culture in the Modern Workplace,” which shares insights from learning leaders like this one.

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