What Is Social Learning, and How to Support It in Your Workplace
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, one of the most famous quotes on the internet.
You must have seen at least one motivational speaker referencing it in their videos at least a zillion times.
But there is some truth to the quote. We do learn a lot by observing others.
Children pick up traits from their parents.
Your immediate friend circles influence your habits.
Psychologists name this social learning.
Can a workplace where people come together and spend hours together be devoid of this learning? Not at all.
One of the best learning sources all employees have is each other.
This article will break down social learning in the workplace.
Then, we'll show you why social learning is the missing piece in your L&D programs.
👨🏫 What is social learning?
Social learning is a psychological concept that means people observe the behavior of others, and it influences their actions.
Albert Bandura, a Canadian-American psychologist, laid the foundation of this concept.
He conducted the famous Bobo doll experiment in the 1960s. For this experiment, he divided children into three groups.
One group observed adults beating and punching a doll, while the other two groups didn't.
Ultimately, all three groups of children were allowed to play with the dolls.
90% of the children from the group that observed the adults behaving aggressively with dolls imitated that behavior and went aggressive with dolls.
This study led to the creation of his three-step social learning theory.
According to him, social learning happens in three stages:
- 1. Observation: First, we observe what's happening around us, and our brain continuously stores this information.
- 2. Modeling: We also model what's right or wrong for us based on the information. For example, if we have seen someone getting punished for a particular behavior, we can flag it mentally.
- 3. Imitation: Our actions depend on this passive learning via observation and modeling, and we may end up imitating others.
Six decades later, implementing this social learning theory in the workplace has become a hot topic.
🧑🤝🧑 How social learning happens at work?
At the workplace, social learning is the formal and informal ways employees learn from their colleagues.
In a formal setting, learning can happen through regularized programs like coaching, internal discussion forums, group learning, and more.
On the other hand, informally, employees learn from each other through social interactions.
We will deep dive further into both formal and informal methods.
🧰 9 Methods to support social learning in your workplace
Mark Britz, Author of Social by Design, says:
"You don't implement social learning. You support it. We need to be focused on the front end of this process, social over learning. Because learning will happen when people connect."
Here are nine ways to provide employees with the front end or ecosystem to socialize and learn.
1. Provide an engaging Learning Management System for training
An engaging Learning Management System(LMS) where participants can connect will boost the learning process. Two common ways by which LMS can support social learning are:
- Providing discussion rooms where learners can discuss and ask questions.
- Conducting the entire employee training in a cohort style where participants interact throughout the program.
2. Conduct group challenges
Conducting group challenges with a theme gives employees a reason to come together. For example, Exporto, one of our customers, runs group challenges like "research day" or "pitch day."
Zavvy sends the assignments to the employees and automatically divides them into groups. For every group, Zavvy also creates a slack channel for discussion. It's an excellent way to promote communication between teams.
3. Build open forums or internal social media platform
Having discussion forums within the company gives employees an open platform for conversation.
It could be a simple Slack channel or a company-wide internal social media platform like Yammer.
Discussion forums or internal social media platforms become a medium for informal exchanges and bouncing back work-related ideas. Both help employees to do their work better.
McKinsey has also found that having such social engagement tools has increased productivity.
4. Empower subject matter experts in your company
A lot of knowledge lies with your company's subject matter experts (SMEs). If this knowledge is not shared, it will significantly impact your organization in the long run.
But it's not always suitable for team members to keep knocking on doors as and when they need details from the SME.
To solve these issues, you can:
- Conduct workshops/seminars.
- Record how-to videos with SMEs
It will help share the knowledge in a more systemized manner.
5. Coaching or mentorship programs
Another formalized way to learn from peers and seniors is an official coaching or mentorship program. Three common types of mentorship are:
- 1-on-1 mentoring: The most basic form of mentoring, where each employee has one mentor, usually a senior.
- Peer mentoring: Unlike 1-on-1 mentoring, mentors and mentees have similar experience levels in peer mentoring.
- Mentoring circle: Mentoring circle is a small group of people with similar goals and interests who meet regularly and help each other.
You can check what type of mentorship program works best for your organization.
➡️ Want to get started with mentorship programs? Get a detailed guide to setting up a mentorship program end to end.
6. Create a comprehensive resource library
Employees spend 2 hours a day or 25 % of work time just finding the information they need, either documents or details from people.
So while learning from peers is essential, it shouldn't take so much of their time.
You can optimize social learning by building a central repository with:
- video recordings from internal subject matter experts;
- project documents;
- company goals;
- project goals;
- process guide;
- technical manual;
- domain handbook.
7. Encourage video calls
A simple way to build a connection is to see the face behind the email id. While texts still work, video calling is way more personal and a better way to form a bond with team members. Encourage employees to keep videos on during meetings.
8. Facilitate informal team interactions
It's easy to say to employees that they should network. But unless you bring a system into place to empower it, chances are nobody will. Instead, it may get simply lost at work.
Using technology to schedule such meetings automatically can be your cheat code. For example, Zavvy randomly matches employees for informal coffee chats.
9. Conduct networking events
Usually, team members communicate with direct peers with whom they work regularly. Networking events unite employees across teams, providing a socializing and skill-sharing forum.
SMEs can also be speakers at such events to share their knowledge.
🏆 9 Ways social learning can benefit your organization
1. Promotes skill-sharing
A project is going well, and suddenly the key performer leaves and the entire team is struggling. That's not the kind of dependency one wishes to have, but organizations do walk down that path.
- time constraints;
- not enough technology support;
- no support from the leadership.
When you set up a fixed system for social learning, you bring a method to save time, provide technology and create a learning culture. Doing this prepares your team for the future, ensuring knowledge is not limited to senior folks.
2. Empowers new ways of learning
A study published in the Journal of Productivity Management shows that Millenials and GenZ, now a major part of the workforce, want companies to look beyond traditional forms of learning.
Instead, they are open to more interactive learning, active feedback, and coaching.
Social learning moves the needle from traditional ways and makes learning more organic.
It also supports just-in-time learning. Just-in-time learning is a learning approach where you provide employees access to information as and when needed.
For example, an employee who is going to work on a new project can access the centralized repository for details just before starting.
3. Improves team collaboration and productivity
A Loom report shows businesses in the US lose $1.85 billion weekly due to employee miscommunication. At such raging losses, social learning is the need of the hour.
With employees continuously supporting each other, social learning builds a culture of collaboration and improves communication.
Besides better team collaboration, learning also closes the skills gaps between team members, which improves overall productivity.
4. Increases new-hire productivity
Using social learning to onboard new employees gives you a blended learning approach where you can combine digital learning and knowledge sharing from the team.
New hires also learn faster from their peers.
For instance, Microsoft found that 56% of new hires who met their onboarding buddy at least once in their first 90 days contributed more to their team's success.
5. Creates a great work culture
As per LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report 2022, 'opportunities to learn and grow' was one of the top factors of a great work culture.
Social learning creates a continuous learning culture and shifts gear from simply getting work done to empowering employees.
6. Improves well-being
In a recent study by Jobsage, 95% of participants said having a friend at work makes them happier. Humans are inherently social. Having a good relationship at work makes them happy and improves their well-being.
7. Makes learning more inclusive
Social learning makes knowledge more and more accessible.
Kacie Walters, Head of global professional development at Northern Trust Corporation, says:
"We've had some great mentoring circles and group learning discussions that have really connected people that would never have been connected before."
8. Increases engagement
Social learning facilitates more interaction between fellow learners, which automatically increases the level of engagement.
9. More knowledge retention
There is a popular 70:20:10 model which states
- 70% of learning comes from experiences and assignments
- 20 % comes from peers
- 10% comes from formal training
The learning and development team spends considerable time on the last 10%, but social learning shifts focus on the more impactful 90%.
💡 7 Best practices for applying social learning theory in your organization
1. Reward participation
Logan Mallory, VP at Motivosity, says, "Recognizing and rewarding employees for sharing their knowledge is a great way to encourage social learning in the workplace."
You can implement rewards and recognition in the following ways:
- Public recognition via emails or at events;
- Slack shout-outs;
- a formal program that provides tangible rewards for employees.
2. Invest in the right tools and technology
Use technology to facilitate learning and automate the nitty gritty. Here are a few options to consider.
3. Encourage 360 feedback
Learning is not only about knowing what to do and how to do it right. It is also about knowing where you are going wrong.
With 360 feedback, employees get feedback from all directions- peers, direct reports, and managers. It's like everyone coming together to contribute to their career growth.
4. Make learning more engaging with gamification
You can gamify the social learning process to increase participation.
The four most common ways to implement gamification are:
- Providing points to employees for conducting training.
- Building leaderboards and rankings to recognize employees who are active in communities.
- Providing badges, rewards, or any tokens of appreciation to employees.
- Running group challenges with a hint of competition among different employees.
5. Personalize your social learning approach
Three ways of personalizing social learning can be:
- Connect employees to the right people for coaching, informal meetups
- Invite employees to the applicable events
- Suggest relevant courses
6. Lead by example
A culture of open communication and transparency comes from the top down. When leaders share information more openly, employees see them as role models and avoid hoarding knowledge.
7. Do not forget your introverts
You'll always have a few introverted employees for whom two is a company and three is a crowd. Getting them involved in social learning is a different ballgame. You obviously can't leave them out. The idea would be to bring more flexibility into systems.
A few prefer a major networking event, while some like 1:1 coaching or online training.
You are good as long as you have options to cater to both audiences.
🏢 9 Examples of organizations that used social learning to their advantage
Springworks has a learning ritual hour
Springworks has a monthly dedicated learning ritual hour where teams gather and discuss their learnings. The company lets the individual teams drive this meetup (what topics, who will lead, etc.). Still, a placeholder is marked every month to ensure it happens.
Freeletics conducts leadership roundtables
Freeletics brings together leaders across departments where they openly discuss their challenges and learnings. This way, new leaders learn from peers and get lessons learned from experience beyond the theory.
Capgemini creates a centralized repository for product teams
Capgemini uses Confluence to build a centralized repository with all product requirements, meeting reports, and onboarding documents. It keeps the global product team connected and speeds up software development.
Zavvy focuses on informal interactions
It allows us to go beyond the usual water cooler conversations and really get to know each other. It increases our sense of team spirit and helps us to collaborate better.
Awesomic assigns onboarding buddies
Awesomic assigns onboarding buddies to new hires to make onboarding effective. This way, any new hire has a peer mentor who helps them get up to speed.
Instrumentl has an internal social media platform
Instrumentl launched an internal social media platform -Workplace by Meta, where employees share ideas, resources, learnings, successes, failures, and achievements. It creates a strong sense of community.
Spotify conducts networking events
Spotify conducts a three-day networking event called Intro days for new hires, where they learn about the company's culture and meet their colleagues.
Intel offers a mentorship program
Intel has a mentorship program for employees. Participants can fill in forms, and training teams will find a mentor for them. The training team keeps the guesswork out for employees who can be mentors and makes it easy for them to only focus on learning.
Convertkit hosts two company retreats a year
Convertkit is a fully remote team, and they regularly meet twice yearly for a retreat. They split their retreat time as follows:
- 33% work and strategy;
- 33% personal connection;
- 33% downtime and fun.
This combination ensures equal time for team bonding, learning, and of course, fun because it's a retreat, after all.
➡️ Create more impactful learning experiences with Zavvy
An effective social learning strategy is the combination of both formal and informal exchanges between employees.
To handle both, Zavvy provides a holistic solution to:
- 🌱 Help employees find a mentor.
- 👥 Create discussion groups for learners enrolled in our Learning Management System training courses.
- 📅 Schedule any networking events.
- 💪 Design engaging courses based on learnings from SMEs.
- 👥 Automate informal interactions by randomly matching up employees for a coffee chat.
- 🔄 Conduct 360 feedback, so employees learn from peers and seniors.
As Mark Britz said: You don't implement social learning. You support it.
Book a demo of the ecosystem which can support social learning at your workplace.
What is a good example of social learning theory?
An excellent example of social learning theory is how children learn from their parents. For example, a study published by Oxford University Press shows boys raised by working mothers are more supportive of women at work and more sensitive to creating a home environment that encourages daughters to excel.
Why is social learning important at work?
Human beings are inherently social. Therefore, social learning is one of the most cost-effective ways to enable employees to learn, engage and share their experiences.
Why may social learning be key to solving workplace problems?
By focusing on team collaboration, social learning solves many critical workplace problems. For example, it increases employee engagement, productivity, and routine knowledge sharing. It also helps in improving employee well-being and makes the culture more inclusive.
What are some advantages and disadvantages of social learning theory?
Advantages: As humans enjoy socializing, social learning becomes the most natural form of learning. Most importantly, it makes the learning process fun, where participants collaborate and explore at the same time.
Disadvantages: Firstly, it's tough to predict the outcome. It's not a structured learning program like classroom training and depends on the involvement levels of participants. Secondly, it can curb innovation as participants can begin replicating their peers' actions rather than thinking out of the box.