According to the 70-20-10 model, at least 20% of learning comes from our interactions, such as social learning and collaboration. Humans are a social species, so it makes sense that socializing is pertinent to learning. However, the current state of the workplace threatens the fabric of organic social learning. Where the physical workplace naturally fosters collaboration even without planned activities, remote learning makes it more difficult. Now, more than ever, we must focus on social learning strategies.

As more and more social distancing measures are put in place, organizations are mobilizing virtual tools to counter the cancellation of face-to-face learning events. This shift will challenge learning designers, who will need to work in real time to adjust their content, and will require some workarounds to keep social learning and collaboration alive while social distancing. This process will demand ingenuity, adaptability and flexibility.

Even though much of virtual learning is self-paced and geared for individual consumption, we can still make it social. Here are some steps you can take to implement social learning in your virtual training:

1. Provide Collaboration Platforms

Start by providing a platform for social learning and collaboration. Most learning management systems (LMSs) come with a built-in collaboration tool, such as a forum, but you can decide to use a specialized social learning platform as well. Weigh the pros and cons of each platform and decide which suits your program. For example, a Facebook group allows for peer feedback but could easily get out of hand. The presence of a moderator is important to bring structure and to keep social learning alive. There’s a wide variety of collaboration tools to choose from. Many are inexpensive, and you might find that your organization already has access to others.

2. Encourage and Facilitate Group Discussions

Within the learning curriculum, it’s important to include a structure for group discussions and brainstorming sessions. Learners may discuss a solution to a case study or role-play new skills, all within the virtual classroom. These sessions enable learners to express themselves freely and take on a more active role.

Encourage learners to send in specific course-related questions they would like their colleagues to discuss on a collaboration platform. You can also personally post a case study or problem in your forum or instant messaging tool and invite collaborative feedback from your learners. You could also address learning concerns they voice or challenges that would benefit from peer input.

Features like the webcam, audio tools, interactive boards and live chat can support these sessions and step it up to a classroom-like setting. Facilitator involvement can extend to asking open-ended questions that provoke thought and opinions. These discussions, however, should mostly be carried out by the learners. It’s important that virtual class sessions don’t become a one-way transmission of information.

For large audiences, form smaller groups in breakout rooms, assuming your learning platform has this capability. Collaboration works better in smaller groups of less than five, where it’s harder for individuals to fly under the radar. Assign moderators to each group to ensure the discussions get off to a great start.

3. Host Live Events With Q&A Sessions

Livestream events are a great way to bolster real-time interactions. Host webinars with leaders or respected subject matter experts (SMEs) to guide interactive conversations that include input from participants. You can also use these sessions solely for questions (an “ask me anything” session from leaders is a great example). These events give learners the opportunity to learn from industry experts while engaging in social learning.

Encouraged learners to prepare questions in advance and engage the subject matter expert in conversation. Allow time for learners to ask questions, and be sure to moderate the conversation in an organized manner. Afterward, encourage your learners to have open discussions about the live event on social media. Posting videos and quotes for learners to comment on is a great start.

4. Be Creative With Social Activities

Group discussions are great for fostering social interactions, but you can be even more creative with social learning activities. Role-playing games are a great example. Even though simulations are harder to do online, you can still make it work. Have your learners mimic a workplace scenario, with each person playing a clearly defined role to complete a collective job successfully.

As a team-building exercise, branch out from work-related scenarios. Using another industry’s scenarios, such as imitating a crew on a movie set or editorial staff at a newspaper, can be fresh and exciting. Involving every learner in the creative activity is the goal.

There’s also the option of flipping the script. Have learners take turns filling the role of the trainer by teaching their peers. This method fosters independent and peer learning and will go far in curbing the passiveness virtual training is prone to.

5. Foster and Reward Competition

Fostering a healthy sense of competition among your learners is another way to incorporate social learning in your virtual training strategy. This competition could take place among individual learners or between groups, to foster more collaboration. Competitive activities make learning more exciting and force learners to take a more active role in their learning. There are many options to explore, including gamification.

Using the innate desire to win motivates learners and drives social interactions. You can nurture this motivation even more by providing incentives. Don’t underestimate the power of positive reinforcement; when your learners feel good about successfully completing a task, they are incentivized to pursue more learning challenges.

Social learning is undoubtedly important for learning retention and motivation, so provide opportunities for collaboration, and encourage knowledge-sharing and support among your learners. Encouraging social learning is especially important now that in-person social gatherings are prohibited and collaboration cannot occur organically. Adapting social learning to the virtual environment is critical for achieving your desired outcomes.