In a recent TrainingIndustry.com article, I argued that we might need to reconsider the percentages of the popular 70-20-10 model in the current remote work and learning environment. While social learning (which accounts for about 20% in the model) is inevitably affected by the decreasing in-person interactions, there are ways we can encourage it.
The father of social learning theory (which later flourished into social cognitive theory) is psychologist Albert Bandura. He demonstrated that learning is not only behavioral but also cognitive and influenced and motivated by the observation and imitation of others.
In the workplace, social learning includes coaching, mentoring, sharing knowledge with peers or managers, group discussions, action learning, observing and emulating the behavior modeled by an experienced co-worker, collaboration, feedback, and networking. Essentially, it’s anything that’s learned together rather than alone.
Call center advisers might initially learn the theory of their job by attending a training program. Then, they will develop their skills more by putting what they learned in training into practice by actually taking calls. But that’s not enough: They will also need to receive coaching and feedback and to listen to examples of “what good sounds like” — which are examples of social learning.
Although the organic interactions and much of the invaluable “behind-the-scene” learning that happens face to face are lost when working remotely, social learning can also occur online. As long as it’s collective and shared, it’s social learning.
Same Ingredients; New Recipe
A 2015 TrainingIndustry.com article discussed how to apply the main principles of Bandura’s social learning theory to eLearning — and those tips are still relevant today. But beyond eLearning and in everyday remote work, here are six ways we can foster social learning:
1. Communication Tools
Online communication apps are ideal for instant messaging and collaboration among small teams. With these platforms, employees can ask questions and receive answers in a tick (and even like them with a thumbs-up emoji!).
2. Social Networking
Internal social networks help large numbers of employees connect or receive quick feedback through polls. In perfect social media style, they also enable employees to follow colleagues and receive notifications whenever they post an update. When they follow someone they aspire to be like, it creates learning to the nth power. Beyond the microcosm of a single organization, similar learning can occur on a global level through a platform like LinkedIn.
3. Live Events
Meetings and live events to share ideas can continue in the virtual context. Are they the same? No — you might be wearing your tracksuit pants, among other differences! But they can be interesting and interactive.
Organizations can run forums and symposiums on online videoconferencing software. Here, leaders can promote active participation out loud or in writing (through the chat) — or both. Additional features include quizzes, Q&A and live polling, encouraging everyone’s involvement and enjoyment.
4. Coaching and Mentoring
Online coaching, feedback and mentoring sessions can also take place through (video) call. The gist is the same; it’s the context that’s changed.
5. Job Shadowing
Job shadowing is still a useful learning and development tool, and it can take place virtually via videoconferencing software, ideally through a screen-share.
6. Learning Management Systems
When social learning can’t take place face to face, we have a plethora of other tools to reconcile the human element with the virtual environment. It’s up to us to mix the winning ingredients that we know into a new recipe.
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.