Social interactions will always play an important role in learning. According to the 70-20-10 model, at least 20% of workplace learning comes from social interactions and observation. Social learning empowers learners; it improves learner engagement, triggers collaboration and supplements training needs.
Learning in the workplace presents the perfect opportunity to propagate organic social learning and collaboration, and we’ve adjusted to deliver this experience virtually. Now that we have mastered the basics, it’s time to focus on virtual training excellence, and we need to give more thought to reinforcing our learning content with social learning strategies. Doing so will mean planning avenues and incorporating activities to foster socialization and collaboration, even over the internet.
Bandura’s social learning theory presents attention, retention, reproduction and motivation as the major components of observational learning. Here are some practical steps that you can take to apply these components in your virtual training strategy:
1. Invest in Social Collaboration Tools and Platforms
With the option of in-person meetings eliminated or deprioritized, social learning now requires a well-rounded online platform. While many learning management systems (LMSs) come equipped with social collaboration tools that provide video and audio features, chat, forums, polls and discussion boards, there are even better solutions out there. For example, you might already be familiar with platforms that offer “sticky note” and collaboration features that support social learning. Word cloud and polling or quiz tools can provide a quick tool for alignment and sharing en masse.
2. Have Regular Group Discussions and Brainstorming Sessions Between Virtual Classes
“Between-class” discussions are a great way to keep the learning going. Group discussions offer an avenue for learners to express their opinions and ideas and learn from peers’ experience. Participants particularly like knowing how others apply the training concepts, because they gain new insights into their own application. These social learning elements help drive learning transfer. Luckily, video, audio, collaboration tools and discussion boards allow conversations to happen seamlessly for formal or informal check-ins.
Ask your learners to come equipped with questions they would like to tackle with their peers in a structured virtual setting, or address specific pre-planned topics, thought-provoking questions or case studies. Although these sessions should be mostly learner-driven, facilitator involvement and participant guidelines will provide structure and steer the conversation in the right direction. For example, in these check-ins, the facilitator could ask open-ended questions and invite responses from the participants, while being careful not to transition into another lecture session.
3. Host Interactive Webinars With Subject Matter Experts
Your learners will benefit from occasional livestream sessions with engaging thought leaders or respected internal leaders. The relative rarity of these sessions and the opportunity to learn from and interact with industry experts works well to give your learners something to look forward to. Leader-featured webinars are typically topic-specific, with Q&A opportunities and simple engagement via the poll and chat functions.
It’s important to plan these sessions meticulously. Take care when choosing the right videoconferencing platform to host your webinar, as some support more participants and offer more features than others. Ensure audio and visual tools are in perfect condition. Create an agenda, including topics of discussion, and forward it to the participants in advance so they have ample time to prepare their questions and contributions.
Also consider post-event learning opportunities. You can use these live events to spark further conversations using the webinar platform tool or on social media. You can also post videos and quotes from the sessions and encourage participation in the comment threads after the session. It’s also possible to repurpose video clips from the expert’s session to provide on-demand consumption of focused, bite-sized insights. Extend the expert’s reach, and ensure that learners can easily absorb the content.
4. Plan Creative and Collaborative Activities
Learners’ interactions don’t have to stop at group discussions. Incorporating creative collaborative activities in the curriculum helps to reinforce the agenda and keep learning alive and interesting. These activities can help foster team building, learner engagement and intrinsic reinforcement.
Even with the physical limitations, you can still be creative using role-playing games and simulations to help learners put their new skills to work. Create a work-related scenario, and assign each participant a specific role he or she must carry out properly to meet the collective end goal. Doing so not only reinforces the learning but encourages team building.
Another interesting way to get your learners actively involved is by recruiting them as instructors for the session, in groups or individually. Assign each person or group a topic for self-study, after which they can create and execute a lesson plan on their area of expertise — thus, sharing their learning experience with their peers.
In designing collaborative tasks, you have another opportunity to use collaboration or social media platforms to your advantage. There are many digital collaboration tools that allow for joined brainstorming, voting on ideas and creative visualization. These intuitive tools are designed specifically to foster online synchronous collaboration. Alternatively, your learners probably already use Facebook and Twitter to stay in touch and exchange news, so leverage these tools, as relevant. Divide learners into small teams with assigned problem-solving tasks, and ask them to create groups on these platforms to share relevant materials and have private meetings to brainstorm solutions.
5. Motivate and Reward Your Learners by Using Healthy Competition
Social learning theory has already made us aware that motivation stems from being rewarded. A reward could be the thrill of winning, positive reinforcement or the feeling of achievement from successfully completing an assigned task (i.e., intrinsic reinforcement). From time to time, however, it’s good to challenge your learners with some healthy competition, among individuals or between teams to drive collaboration. You can also use gamification in the virtual setting: Create work-related games for individual and team competitors with levels they can progress through.
Social learning excels in curbing the feelings of isolation that your learners might be experiencing in their work and personal lives. Now is the time to start reinforcing your virtual training strategy with social learning activities. Your learners need the outlet to express their ideas and learn from and collaborate with their peers to achieve training outcomes.
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.