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Social Learning in the Workplace

Social Learning in the Workplace

The idea of lifelong learning might sound clichéd, but for those who want a successful career, it’s an imperative. As the CEO of a growing business, I know that having a team of employees who are continuously learning is key to our success. In a marketplace rife with constant disruption, the ability to learn and to adapt is a core differentiator for both businesses and individuals. The most successful companies in the world embrace failing fast and experimentation. A learning culture is a winning culture, and a learning professional is a winning professional.

A learning culture is a winning culture, and a learning professional is a winning professional.

The good news is that lifelong and continuous learning occurs daily in the workplace as social learning. Social learning is an extension of water cooler conversation—interacting, sharing, and learning with others. More importantly, social learning isn’t limited to a handful of learning modes. It can include one-on-one meetings or coaching circles, mentorship, start-stop-continue feedback exercises, cross-team collaboration, online platforms, committees, or good-old networking. Individuals and organizations that understand the power of social learning have an advantage in today’s economy.

Strengthening individual and organizational agility

Social learning involves collaborating or engaging with others. Encouraging people to work together leads to improved problem-solving and tends to produce a more agile organization. In our firm, we encourage our people to seek new approaches and points of view, improve the status quo, and confidently adapt to ever-changing work and business environments.

Social learning also breaks down siloes and creates trust. Knowledge is spread across teams and not hoarded. The value of each person’s contribution is amplified through continual learning and skill refinement. In effective social-learning cultures, individuals are encouraged to share their unique perspectives, backgrounds, and experience.

Turning learning into the norm and not the exception

Like any business practice, social learning should be woven into a company’s values. In an ideal state, continuous learning should become a part of employees’ daily activities.

At Bridge Partners, many of our professionals work remotely. To foster community and ensure that colleagues are kept informed of company and industry developments, we use a single platform for collaboration. Our team uses this social platform to request help on projects, post productivity tips, conduct live webinars, create a repository of commonly used documents, announce the availability of new software and tools, and give kudos to team members. We’ve discovered that questions posed by our team generate helpful answers, identify additional training needs, and helps to build our learning culture. Essentially, we’re crowdsourcing productivity through a social platform.

Lifting the limitations of traditional training

The concept of learning through social interactions and real-world experiences was introduced in 1941 by psychologists Neil Miller and John Dollard in their book Social Learning and Imitation. The social learning construct has expanded to reflect contemporary forms of interaction, like reading articles on LinkedIn and engagement in virtual communities.

The opportunities to learn via social interaction remove the requirement that only subject-matter experts, certified trainers, or traditional instructors can deliver training. Social learning turns everyone in an organization into an educator. It opens numerous avenues for complementing existing skills and building knowledge by exploring new disciplines.

But to fully leverage the potential of social learning, organizations must allow employees to spend a part of their days in social learning activities. Encouraging employees to help peers, read articles on industry sites, listen to podcasts, attend lunch-and-learns, or watch educational videos, demonstrates a commitment to building an engaged and competitive workforce.

Gearing up for success

Learning for the sake of learning doesn’t move the needle for our clients. The value of workplace learning, whether formal or informal, is in the application. We encourage our practitioners to use and continuously refine new skills. And we recognize that relearning also improves proficiency and confidence. Taking a refresher course, or periodically consulting with a more experienced colleague strengthens existing expertise.

To paraphrase Socrates, “True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.” With disruption and change as the only constant in the business world today, social learning is one way to stay ahead of the curve.

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Richard Albrecht

Richard Albrecht

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About the Author

Richard Albrecht