Resources How-to's Informal Learning: Getting Beyond the Social Stigma


Informal Learning: Getting Beyond the Social Stigma

Social learning can deliver significant benefits. The key is to start small and build on success. One simple word may be preventing your organization from experiencing the significant benefits of social learning. It's the word "social" that carries considerable baggage in some work places these days. Perhaps for some in the corporate world, "social" doesn't convey enough seriousness. Or maybe it conjures up images of millennials hunched over laptops, spending all day on Facebook instead of focusing on work. A recent survey of participants in a Saba webinar found that the term "social learning" bothered 60% of participants - 41% did not like it themselves, and another 19% expressed concern that the term made it difficult to "sell" social learning to senior management.

Small steps, big gains with a social learning strategy

The reality is that social learning encompasses much more than its Facebook stereotype, including online communities, discussions, videos, tagging, crowdsourcing, comment capabilities and more. Each of these technologies has the potential to enhance learning, initiate more collaboration, spark innovation and deepen engagement at your organization.

So, regardless of what you call it, how do you get started in social learning? The most practical approach is to take small, incremental steps that, over time, can prove to be major catalysts for significant gains and broader adoption across the enterprise.

For instance, the first step might be to pilot social learning by identifying a prime opportunity to create an online group or a social community within an existing team or group in the organization. Often, it makes sense to create a social community in connection to an established class or workshop. In that instance, there is a clear rationale for introducing a social learning tool.

Also, to encourage participation, the instructor can create an expectation among participants to engage online as a means to maximize what is learned in the classroom.

Another potential inroad is creating social learning opportunities related to your onboarding process. There are some logical reasons why this may provide a good starting point for social learning. For starters, because onboarding targets new employees, you don't have to "sell" the concept of social learning to them as you might to more tenured employees who are accustomed to more traditional approaches.

Furthermore, because new employees need a lot of information and have plentiful questions, a social learning community in which one question can be answered by a subject-matter expert and viewed by a larger group makes for greater efficiency. Finally, the approach helps new employees connect easily with other recent hires, as well as make faster connections within the organization.

The four-phase path of social learning

Any of these initial steps can help build acceptance and create measurable gains through social learning. And once social learning has been successfully introduced, you will put your organization on a multi-phased path to ultimately becoming a dynamic, socially networked company. At Saba, we have found that organizations typically experience four phases on an adoption curve of social learning:

1. Enhancing formal learning

Initially, social learning should be viewed as an opportunity to augment and enhance existing formal learning approaches. Developing social communities and online sharing helps expedite the distribution of learning materials and can encourage discussion and information exchange. That leads to more effective use of classroom time, deeper engagement and greater continuity throughout extended learning programs.

2. Accelerating processes

As social learning evolves at an organization, the tools and functionality start presenting value in terms of helping to enhance existing processes. There are many examples - onboarding, performance reviews and software rollouts, to name a few.

Social communities create a central home for documents, forms, recorded meetings and training, significantly improving the accessibility of materials. The communities also give end-users one place to find answers to their questions.

Ultimately, social learning approaches can improve processes in ways that lead to shorter completion time for projects, more efficient use of subject-matter experts' time, and enhanced flexibility of how processes are approached and executed.

3. Developing communities of practice

The gains of social learning start multiplying even more as communities of practice develop throughout the organization. By searching and crowdsourcing, employees from throughout the organization can readily tap into expertise, regardless of location, and quickly find the information they need.

The efficiencies gained include faster response times, better productivity, less rework and improved customer satisfaction. The collaboration and free exchange of information and ideas via communities of practice also helps foster a more innovative environment.

4. Creating a company-wide social network

Ultimately, this journey can lead to a dynamic company-wide social network in which the usefulness and relevance of what were initially social learning tools are fully leveraged to continuously enhance learning, improve processes, and spawn communities of practice that drive better performance and improved business results. The return on investment when this occurs can be significant. For instance, The Educe Group, a talent management firm and Saba client who implemented social learning, saw average time responding to a client question or concern decline from an average of over two days to less than one hour.

Create an Iterative Social Learning Strategy

Of course, every journey begins with that single step. The key is to not let misconceptions about social learning stand in the way of making progress. Share with senior executives the potential for social learning to not only engage employees in the training sphere, but also to drive more efficiency, increased innovation and, ultimately, better business results.

Start with a project that is manageable and can show demonstrated results. Then gradually introduce the tools and concepts of social learning to new parts of the enterprise.

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