Organisations are increasingly interested in the potential of social learning, recognising that it can greatly help individuals to make sense of new knowledge and skills and to effect real changes in performance. But how did we get here? What’s so special about Social?
Social learning is a term that we can use to describe the semi formal layers of sense making that surround formal learning activities. And there’s nothing new about it, although recent developments and uptake of technology have facilitated it greatly, making it more synchronous and locating it in your pocket.
We all start through formal systems: schools, colleges and university. These provide long form structured courses, developing skills and methodologies over time, through practice, that we apply throughout our working lives, but as we move out of formal education, we start to rely increasingly on other ways of understanding. Within the workplace, we join tribes and communities that help us make sense of the environment, of the specific problems and challenges that face us. These communities persist, some of them for life.
Communities make sense of problems through collective co-creation of meaning, through discussion and debate, challenge and support. The role of technology is to facilitate these conversations, but not to drive them. You can have the best systems in the world, but they won’t deliver great learning unless people are engaged in communities.
Technology also allows our communities to be global: storytelling around the world, bringing people together with common purpose and shared value.
Social learning is something that we do naturally, all the time, but it can also refer to formalised activities, scaffolded learning encounters that organisations can provide. The potential of social learning is to help us make sense of what we learn and to use that meaning to do things differently, to change cultures and mindsets, to learn.