Learn how to improve employee engagement with Social Learning

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Learn how to improve employee engagement with social Learning

A few years ago we were all jumping on the social learning bandwagon because it was the next ‘big thing’ in training. Some companies jumped in head first while others dipped their toes cautiously before adding social into their training programs. Regardless where you fall on the spectrum, it’s safe to say that social learning is here to stay. Now, if you’re still on the fence about social, this blog will give you more insight about what it is, how it effects your business and what top social learning LMS features you should consider.

For older generations, working independently was a praised quality in an employee. But, this is not so much the case these days, especially with the increasing number of Millennials in the workplace. Learning as part of a team is highly valued and for good reason. Just as Aristotle said, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.’ In other words, when individual parts are connected together to form one entity, they are worth more than if the parts were in silos.

With that said, employees that learn and work together will have a profound impact on your productivity, employee morale, increased engagement and more.

What is Social Learning? 

For some, when they hear the word ‘social’ they automatically think about various social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. Social learning isn’t social media. Social media is a tool used to enable social learning.

In its most basic form, social learning is the idea that humans learn better through each other rather than being talked to via a traditional classroom-style program. Learning socially could mean a variety of things from discussion boards to group projects.

Social learning happens outside the formal structure of a classroom and thus centers around sharing, collaboration and co-creation.

The great thing about utilizing social learning in the workplace is that it encourages continuous learning - this is a huge shift from learning in the past.

Social learning seems like a fairly new concept but in actuality it has been around since the 1970s when psychologist Albert Bandura theorized about social cognitive learning and what has been perhaps the most influential theory of learning and development. 


  1. People learn through observation. The most famous example of this is the Bobo doll experiment where children observed an adult acting violently toward the doll. Later, when they were allowed to play with the doll, they began to mimic the aggressive behavior they observed earlier.
  2. Mental states are important to learning. Bandera believed that external, environmental reinforcement was not the only factor that influenced learning and behavior. Intrinsic reinforcement as a form of internal reward, such as pride, satisfaction, and a sense of accomplishment were a key component.
  3. Learning doesn’t necessarily lead to a changed behavior. While behaviorists believed that learning led to a permanent change in behavior, observational learning demonstrates that people can learn new information without demonstrating new behaviors.

There are, of course, certain things that need to happen in order for social learning to be a success. This includes,

  • Attention – This probably seems obvious but in order to actually learn by observation, you need to be paying attention first and foremost.
  • Retention – Just with any other form of learning, it must be retained. Retention can be affected by a number of factors, but the ability to pull up information later and act on it is vital to observational learning.
  • Reproduction – Once the first two things happen, the learner must put what they learned to action.
  • Motivation - Finally, in order for observational learning to be successful, you have to be motivated to imitate the behavior that has been modeled. 

How Social Learning Effects Your Business 

Social learning wouldn’t be a ‘thing’ in the training space if it didn’t have some significant benefits to your business.

The goal of any training program is to increase the skill level of your employees to help them be more productive which ultimately increases your bottom line.

Reduced training costs is a major benefit to your business. Traditional training is very time intensive and costly. Wouldn’t it be great to create a continuous learning environment that would keep your employees out of the classroom and in the workplace? Social learning enables this and even improves learning retention!

Increased productivity and efficiency is another wonderful side effect of social learning. This culture of continuous learning can only be beneficial to your business.

Another area that sees positive gains is in employee engagement. We know that it costs a bunch of money to hire and train new employees and the importance of retaining top talent. Millennials espeicially value engagement which helps them feel fulfilled in their profession.

Social functionality has become integral to LMS solutions for extended enterprise, ecommerce and (to a lesser degree) employee LMS solutions.  These social LMS features serve many strategic business functions including:

  • Community development and on-demand support
  • Increased visibility to attract and retain volunteer learners
  • Accelerated content curation and knowledge sharing
  • Enhanced productivity for work groups and remote team projects
  • Stronger collaboration for self-paced and live instructor content (peer-to-peer and peer-to-instructor)
  • Effective drip, drip, drip micro learning and marketing

More importantly, people can leverage all the social behaviors they apply elsewhere to the process of learning. 

Top Social Learning LMS Features 

These days, most people are accustomed to social media and the conventions associated with profiles, friends, posts, liking and sharing.  But what social tools are most valued in today’s learning management systems (LMS)?

A study of various LMS vendors gave their insights into what prospective customers want in social features, including newsfeed, question and answer, user generated content, ability to share content, follow content threads, chat and file sharing.

Technically, social learning features were built into learning management systems long before social media was invented.  And, until recently, were underutilized. SharePoint, for instance, has been a training tool for quite some time and unbeknownst to learning managers, is ripe for social learning.

If you’re the one in two organizations currently using SharePoint, you’ll find that it houses what is considered to be the top social learning LMS features every organization should have. Let’s take a closer look at these social learning features:

  • Billboards and News
  • Email and text notifications
  • Question and answer tools
  • Discussion boards, threaded discussions, forums and best practice centers tied to classes or topics
  • Blogs
  • Friending or following
  • User profile with bios, user photos, biographies and status tracking visible in LMS
  • Ability to like, share and comment on content in catalog
  • Ability to create and share content in user profile and in peer newsfeeds
  • Content tagging – keyword metadata and search
  • Find the expert functionality with people search and communications via chat or email

These are wonderful basic social learning features to have and SharePoint addresses each and every one of these topics.

Utilizing a SharePoint intranet allows your employees to have one central place to learn about company news and the latest goings on. Communication sites just rolled out recently as well for Office365 users. A SharePoint communication site is a great place to share information with others. You can share news, reports, statuses, and other information in a visually compelling format.

In addition, there are a variety of social means within the SharePoint intranet such as Team Sites, MySites, and Community Sites. They all serve a unique purpose for social learning.

For the broader group, there are community sites which act like a forum. Anyone within your business can ask a question or give an opinion to start a discussion in the community where others can like or comment. The person who started the thread can even mark the ‘best reply’ as well as make it a featured discussion.

There is also an element of gamification in community sites with the badges feature. Badges can be assigned to members to indicate their status in the community, i.e. subject expert.

Narrowing it down a little further are team sites. Team sites are for smaller, focused projects. One way that trainers use this feature is by creating a team site that is tied to their classroom. After in-classroom or online training, peers can visit the team site to discuss what they learned, work jointly on content, assign tasks and utilize a calendar. Everybody within the group can also turn on notifications when anything new is added.

All content stored in SharePoint is also trackable with an advanced metadata tagging feature. So regardless of where you are within SharePoint you will be able to find the content you need.

MySites are the most narrowed down social feature. They are essentially a personal profile page on SharePoint where you can manage and store your documents, content, links, and contacts. Fellow employees can friend you and follow your newsfeed as well as make comments. My Site is a way for other users to learn about you and your areas of expertise, current projects, and colleague relationships. In addition, it is also a place for content providers to target information to you based on the information that you and your organization provide in your profile, such as your title, department, and interests.

Key Consideration:
Learning, SharePoint

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