How to Inject Social Into Your Learning and Development Programs

Does social learning = a better trained, more informed and engaged workforce?


In theory, yes. But are organizations actually doing social?


According to Bersin, 80% of corporate learning occurs through informal approaches, which include coaching, mentoring, communities of practice, use of expert directories and (you guessed it!) social networking.


By connecting employees and enabling real-time interaction, social networking tools have the potential to transform the way organizations conduct learning and training. These tools provide a cost-effective way for organizations to connect groups of individuals, share information and identify specific skills and resources. With just a few clicks, social technology provides an excellent platform for just-in-time learning, multi-perspective learning and error-exposure learning. And, on top of it all, they’re connecting people with other likeminded people in a way that feels natural and authentic.


But are organizations really harnessing the power of social? Or are they just sprinkling in social features into their social learning strategy for the sake of keeping up with the latest trends?


A recent blog by Association for Talent Development (ATD)  unveiled a new report, “Learners of the Future: Taking Action Today to Prevent Tomorrow’s Talent Crisis,which reports that that social learning was used by less than 3 of the 10 organizations who responded. While we all know social media and social networking is only going to get bigger, the report clearly demonstrates that organizations either don’t know how to tap into social learning, or haven’t done so successfully.


The report states, “A robust 59 percent (of learning professionals) agreed that learning in 2020 will take place in ways we can’t imagine today. Alarmingly, a mere 38 percent of those surveyed felt that their organizational learning functions would be ready to meet learners’ needs five years from now.”


How to avoid the social learning trial by error

Yes, while social networking tools can help narrow the gap between learning and knowledge consumption, there is still learning curve as organizations figure out what does and does not work within their learning strategy. Learning leaders can’t simply throw spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks. Giving learners enhanced chats and forms, gamification, leaderboards and video recording capabilities are all fantastic ways to get people engaged and interested, but you have to have a plan.


Before you get started with adding, or reevaluating, your social learning strategy, ask yourself these three questions:


  • How is information being shared and leveraged? – If you can’t get people onboard, you’re going to sink! The foundation of successful informal learning via social networking and collaboration is the willingness of people to share information. Setting up a knowledge sharing forum without activity is a waste of energy, so make sure you ask yourself exactly how users will be encouraged and willing to collaborate and share information. Not all corporate cultures encourage this level of sharing, and this must be addressed before tools are put in place. If you want your teams to get involved, give them a voice and encourage them to do so. Also think about ways your learning team can populate these forums with information before the launch.
  • How can you leverage existing communities? – Research proves that building communities around formal training and topics will lead to increased involvement and participation among end-users and experts. They can share best practices, feedback on formal training, and real-life examples. Think about different ways you can empower and engage these communities of thought-leaders. Often, the top influencers offer up good advice on how to improve the communities or new topic areas you can cover. Take a look at what is working and isn’t working in popular learning communities and see how you can apply some of those lessons to your learning strategy.
  • What sort of resources and content are you offering? – If the explosion of Instagram and BuzzFeed has taught us anything, people like consuming and engaging with short, interactive content. Gone are the days of hour-long video segments and 40 page research reports. Populating your learning centers with interesting and relevant articles, videos, and real-world examples can help reinforce learning and expand knowledge base, but only if the content is sticky and interesting Think about what people want to know and different ways you can capture and convey that information.


Looking for more information about how social media is being incorporated into formal learning and training departments? Downloading the “Powering Potential and Productivity: 2016 Learning Trends” report for more research about social learning and information about other issues learning leaders are tackling this year.