Learning has always been a social act. A lot of what we learn in the workplace or in other parts of our lives has always come from our interactions with others, working together to share knowledge or create something.
While training may provide us with answers that others have already solved, it is through collaboration where we can create solutions to the problems that have yet to be solved.
Enhancing the social dimension of learning is thus really about turning colleagues to collaborators; getting work done with better connection and collaboration with others.
So here are some of my top tips for making the learning experience more social at the workplace.
#1 Use technology with purpose
Technology today provides the means for people to engage and connect with each other every day, all the time. These new tools thus help to amplify the social learning that occurs in every organization, making it easier and more convenient for people to learn more, teach more and do more.
So we see a lot of companies investing in things like corporate social networks for their employees, in the hopes that a buzzing hive of creativity and collaboration will emerge. However without a proper vision and intention for these tools, what companies will end up with instead are ghost towns.
In organizations, people are driven to work together not out of interest, but for a shared purpose. Leaders should provide that vision, and also lead by example by using the tools to collaborate, share and learn themselves. If leaders don’t see social learning and collaboration as a good use of their time, employees won’t either.
#2 Make it Personal
To make learning experiences more personal, we can consider ways to include the voice of people from the organization; as we learn from our peers we’re learning socially.
Consider encouraging employees to contribute their solutions for tackling certain challenges, or subject matter experts to share their insights or to demonstrate their expertise with simple videos that can be shot with their smartphones. These contributions can be shared not only on the company’s social platform, but the content can also be worked into other more formal learning programs; thus increasing the touch points for people to hear from their peers or senior leaders.
#3 Provide an open platform for discussion
Discussions are a great tool to build social connections. However, because of different schedules it’s often a challenge to get people in the same room for a conversation. An online platform allows people from all parts of the organization to have ongoing discussions any time of the day, and these discussions have a lifespan beyond meetings.
Effective and meaningful discussions have to be created though, so certain norms and behaviours can be established to ensure people feel safe and comfortable participating, and topics should be relevant and current to encourage more contributions.
#4 Create action plans to encourage connection
After a learning program ends in the classroom or through an online course, learners usually don’t get immediate opportunities to apply their new knowledge or skills, so the learning typically evaporates with time.
Creating action plans as a follow-up to the learning programs not only helps the learner to retain knowledge, but they can also serve as an important social bridge from the learner to his peers, seniors or manager. For instance, a follow-up activity could be a workbook of items that a learner can do with the help of peers, or a reflective journal that learners fill in and later discuss with their manager weeks after the end of the program.
#5 Get managers involved
Managers play an important role in the development of employees; they are in the trenches with their team, working shoulder-to-shoulder, and are responsible for helping them develop their skills on a day-to-day basis.
It’s thus important that managers are held accountable for having those social interactions with each member in their team (responding to questions and providing immediate feedback), and be supported with the tools that enable them to provide this training and support to their team members.