Social and collaborative learning: How to create a culture of learning

First published by People First, on August 13, 2018

Many companies reluctantly spend a lot of money sending employees on training courses that can last for days. During these, employees are unable to complete their daily work, which might distract them, or they are answering emails and miss important information. Often, these formal ways of learning are the only time employees receive training, which not only costs the company money, but also productivity.

Organisational learning objectives require new employees to get up to speed as soon as possible. However, formal learning only makes up about 10% of our preferred way of learning. The other 90% involves exposure to new tasks and learning through experience. This is known as social learning.


Understanding social learning

There has always been social learning in the form of information handed down from generation to generation. But formal teaching has also been practiced throughout history, with students being lectured on certain topics. Research into human history and neuroscience has shown that this formal way of learning is only a small part of how we retain information. All known learning constructs lead back to four theories about the way we learn: behaviourism, cognitivism, experiential and andragogy.


We can look at various concepts and theories of collective and social learning, such as Kolb’s experiential learning, which divides learning into a process of experiences, where learning takes place through reflection on doing. To explain application of the theories in the workplace, we can use Knowles’ andragogy, which relates specifically to adult learners. To explain learning models currently in use and the way they work, Kasl’s, Marsick’s and Dechant’s system model of adult team learning and Jennings’ 70-20-10 framework provide great insights.

Social learning is a combination of learning through behavioural observation, such as watching someone perform a task and repeating it, and the cognitive process of memorising the task. We learn from each other and document our knowledge for generations to come. We learn what works and what does not, so we can refine ways to learn through new theories and practices. Through studies of human history and neuroscience, we have discovered the ways information is passed on to others and what role our brains plays in it.

Social learning is a form of collective learning. Another form of collective learning is collaborative learning, where people work together on a common objective to either find a solution or create something. These could be people with different skills and knowledge to share and help each other develop. Give clear structures to your collaborative learning groups and assess the outcomes achieved.

As businesses review their goals and achievements, it is obvious that formal learning is not enough – people often state that they learn best by ‘doing’.

Some learning and development (L&D) neuroscience best practice implies that self-generated insights, either by observing someone or by doing something, are much more crucial in embedding learning or behavioural change than just providing the information or solution. Helping people to arrive at their own learning triggers more brain activity by creating new pathways and rewarding achievements with the release of dopamine.

According to Rock’s SCARF model, one of the five domains of human social experience is autonomy, which provides a sense of control. It is more effective to let employees have control over their learning and guide and facilitate it, rather than simply presenting them with information. Learning needs to be incorporated into the work and business structure, to be part of everyone’s tasks instead of on top of them. Instead of isolating teams, people need to share their knowledge and experiences, beyond watercooler talks. Casual conversations can lead to information being shared incidentally, even though learning was not the initial aim of the conversation.


Putting social learning into practice

Technology has made it so much easier to share information; however, a lot of knowledge sits either with individual people or departments. Often, knowledge gets lost when employees leave. Using technology to prompt people to share and store information and knowledge helps organisations retain tacit and implicit knowledge. This can be particularly helpful across international companies.

Structured working groups or communities can be set up on chat applications to share updates on specific projects. These groups are great for team learning, whereas informal forums can be used by teams and individuals to share insights and updates about their tasks. Social media groups help to exchange ideas between teams and ask questions on topics relevant only to them. This way feedback can also be given instantly, and learning can be built upon by facilitating Q&A sessions with more experienced staff. Teams can share methods on how they have achieved their goals and invite others to try them too.

Webinars help to connect people in different offices or countries, screen share facilities are useful for sharing visuals, and webcams help to form better relationships with colleagues or peers that one would usually not meet in person. A Learning Management System can be used to store guidance, policies, videos and e-Learning courses that employees and even clients have access to.

Instant feedback on what works and what does not can be captured using survey software, which helps the L&D team to continuously analyse and improve the training offered. In turn, employees can respond quicker to clients’ needs by being able to locate the relevant information when and where they need it. It reduces the need to redesign or restructure training, as there are different options in place that work for everyone.

This lets individuals build personal learning networks and find the best learning method for themselves, others and possibly the company. This builds collective intelligence. All this is part of the 70% experience and 20% exposure to new tasks and environments of Jennings’ 70-20-10 model. So, organised and self-organised learning needs to go hand in hand. Also, knowledge and skills gained through self-managed learning can often be transferred into the personal life and are therefore a big motivator for adult learning.

Most of these activities can be done as micro learning – bite-sized learning tasks employees can build into their working day, without worrying about missing important emails or deadlines when attending hour- or day-long classroom sessions. This helps decrease the learning curve of new employees, as training will be incorporated into what they are already doing.

Implementing social learning spaces in organisations promotes a greater presence of collaboration within the company. Siloed working gets broken down and important information is shared between teams instead of being kept separate. Taking opportunities as they come can decide if a business will become a leader in their industry. Giving employees the space to collaborate helps them to evolve and become better professionals, which in turn helps the company become better in what they are doing.


A new learning culture

Of course, there are always challenges we need to tackle, including the fear of the unknown, or the desire to continue with the way things have always been. People might not want to share their knowledge, holding it as leverage to be the only subject matter expert. We need to show them that sharing information is valuable to everyone.

The end goal is a learning culture where self-directed learning is embraced. This creates respect and nurtures individual performance, so we can all help create an organisation we want to work for. If employees see what is in it for them, they will feel the benefit and will be happier to contribute to the overall company goal.

So, by implementing and facilitating collective and social learning in the workplace, companies can not only save money by not relying on formal training courses for all of their training, they can also help employees learn faster by providing them with learning experiences that are part of their job.

As mentioned in the introduction, about 90% of our preferred way of learning consists of exposure to new tasks and learning through experience. So congratulations! By reading this article, you have now learned how useful facilitating collective and social learning is, what kind of technology is helpful in implementing it in the workplace, and some tips how to do so.

The business case for ongoing learning

Have you heard of the Forgetting Curve? About half of what we learn gets lost after just one day!
It is known that we retain about 10 percent of the information we see, a third of what we see and hear, and 90 percent of what we see, hear, and do.


For most of us, being asked to log in to the company’s Learning Management System and complete a ton of e-Learning courses or sitting through hours of live training is distracting and tiring.

We are social by nature and learn best through social interaction and by keeping control over when and how we learn. Adult learners need to know what’s in it for them, whether that is development or simply saving them time doing a task.

When people see what is in it for them, they will feel the benefit and be happier to contribute to your company’s goals. Save money and time by not relying on just formal workshops or e-Learning. Provide learning experiences that are part of your employees’ jobs, contributing to their well-being. In work and adult learning, autonomy and control over the when and how result in better performance and higher satisfaction.

Help your employees gain and retain the knowledge and skills they need to make your business successful.

Giving your employees space to collaborate provides them with a unique experience that helps them to evolve and become better professionals, which in turn helps your company grow and become better at what you are doing.

Save time for your employees and money for your company. Get stuck into the core tasks of your business, with a learning and company culture that works alongside your mission and vision!

Overcoming challenges

In my first blog post here, I wrote about some challenges I faced so far in my career as a Learning and Development (L&D) professional. I promised to follow up with how I overcame them:

  1. Training is often an afterthought.

Your company needs to become a culture of learning, we as L&D professionals need to design training in a way that it becomes part of the everyday tasks of each employee. This way, we support performance and your learning programme will be on everyone’s minds the minute they issue a job offer or a new product is on the horizon.


Collaborate with and make friends in every department. Find out what they struggle with and help people learn and develop in a way they feel comfortable with. This in turn helps everyone be more productive, keep learning and the company becomes more efficient. Put training on top of everyone’s priority list!


  1. Training does not have a (big) budget.

And actually, it does not always need one. By subtly integrating training activities into every day work lives and facilitating knowledge sharing, we can start creating a culture of learning. Although once training is on everyone’s priority list it will be easier to free up cash for solutions that really help the whole company become better at what it does.


Use already established, free of charge options for employees to exchange ideas, best practices, ask questions and organise themselves: use social media. It doesn’t have to be Facebook or Instagram, but you can use Skype, Slack and even WhatsApp. You can organise people into groups according to departments and projects and let them create their own groups to chat. They don’t always have to be work related. Sometimes it’s really good for colleagues to get to know each other on a more personal level. The more people have in common, the more they will collaborate.

In addition to being free, most people also already know how to use these tools, so no introductory guidance is needed! If someone doesn’t, arrange for a colleague to show them – facilitating knowledge and skill sharing is everything.


  1. Staff complaining about boring PowerPoint presentations…

This is a difficult one. Or is it? Learning by doing is best, right? If you ever watched The Office (the American version), this little gem might delight you: Fire Drill – PowerPoint is boring. If you haven’t watched it yet, this was your introduction.


Don’t do what Dwight did in the video, for it is a bit extreme. But, instead of you always being the one to present, facilitate. Invite people to workshops, for them to share what they might already know about the topic or what they think it’s about.

Create short activities that people not just participate in but contribute to.

Example: Send out information and guidance about the topic for everyone to study before a meeting (pre-reads) and ask everyone to give a 2-minute presentation on a specific part – but not to use PowerPoint. See what happens. Try out different methods and find one or more that work best for you and your colleagues. Just get people involved.


  1. Too many different skill sets are expected from one person.

This one is also fairly difficult to overcome, probably the most difficult of all. You can try 100 times to explain to your manager and finance director that you need money to either attend training and learn the relevant skill sets yourself or to employ someone who has them already. If there is no money in the budget, then there is no money in the budget. To be honest though, a company that does not understand the need for employees to develop and pay for the relevant training, might not be a company you want to stick around at.


This might not be what you want to read, but despite what I just said in my last sentence, maybe instead of the company paying for your training, you can pay for it yourself? Maybe you can make a deal with the company to pay you back (even partially), once you produced the first results from your training.

If not, pay for it anyways because you will always be able to use your new skills somehow and somewhere. There is one important thing I have learned about work and the future of it: be a perpetual learner. Don’t rely on your company to teach you everything you need to know about your work.


Was that helpful? Leave a comment to let me know 😊

Challenges of a learning and development professional

Hello World! For my first post, I thought I’d write about some of the challenges I have been facing in my career so far, so you can get to know me a bit better and hopefully we can connect on that level too!

So, this is the story of me, a Learning and Development (L&D) professional in a corporate world. It could also be your story.

Ever since I was little, I loved learning and I loved school. I wanted to be a teacher, someone adored by kids, helping them achieve good grades. How easy and amazing it would be!

As I grew older, I realised how much stress a bunch (or better, 30!) kids and teenagers can be, not least because I was one of them. I learned that teachers also don’t exactly have 6 weeks off during summer and don’t really earn a fortune. So, I let go of that dream and placed my career on hold for a while.

Once I started working, I enjoyed helping others with their tasks and training new hires into their roles. It felt good to share wisdom and I liked how people looked to me when they needed help. I thought to myself ‘Heck, I don’t need to teach kids to be a teacher, I can train adults!’. My dream came true after all.

Again, of course, what I didn’t know about where the challenges connected to L&D teams in the corporate world.


Here is a short list that you might identify with:


  1. Training is often an afterthought.

I realised quickly that the training team or trainer was often left out of decisions on projects that influence how people work, what tools they are using and ultimately how they will learn new skills and do so going forward. Or you are informed on the day a new person starts that you need to dedicate all your time that week to the induction of said new hire. Ugh!


  1. Training does not have a (big) budget.

Many companies seem reluctant to invest into their people, starting with the training budget. It is more important to allocate money to the design of new products or bonuses of senior management (Which are, granted, people too.). You can use PowerPoint and video conferencing to communicate with people speaking different languages in different time zones, right? Google Translate is free last time I heard…


  1. Staff complaining about boring PowerPoint presentations…

‘Great, another afternoon wasted sitting in meeting room ‘Waterloo’, trying to stay awake whilst listening to an energetic trainer and participating in group activities. I wish the company would provide short, online training modules I could complete conveniently at my desk…’ … is probably what the average employee will be thinking when you drag them into your workshops.


  1. Too many different skill sets are expected from one person.

Finally, the company has decided to gift you some money and is investing in an online Learning Management System. You get to name it and everything, how fancy! Oh, and while you are at it, can you create all the content? You know, use Articulate Storyline, Video and Photo Editor, Camtasia and whatever else you need to convert your boring PowerPoint presentations into animated, fun, short little videos employees and clients get to watch at their desks. Without any training for said Software, of course. There is no money for that or hiring a Training Designer now that we bought you that really fancy, expensive Learning Management System…


Of course, these challenges are not exclusive to training departments. So if you are working in a different area and can still relate, I would also love to hear your comments!


What is the challenge you find yourself most confronted with?

What are others not listed?

Leave a comment and I will dedicate a next blog entry to tackling those challenges.