Is The Key To Social Learning in The ‘Social’ not The ‘Learning’?

Learning…what is it? How do we do it?

If people say ‘I didn’t learn anything’ what do they mean?

There’s a debate going on now in the UK started by a blog from Michael Carty on why e-learning is seen as ineffective…seems that studies from CIPD and XpertHR showed that whilst e-learning is on the increase, not many think that it’s effective.


Are we so conditioned to the classroom style teaching of our youth that learning is something we do when we’re sat in rows taking notes whilst someone tells stuff we don’t know?

Are we saying, in the words of Kurt Cobain…Here We Are Now, Entertain Us (or rather,  Enlighten Us)

Unconferences such as HRevolution are one aspect of Social Learning, and for a lot of us they are the one of choice at the moment.

And I’m wondering about this because I’ve been reading some post–HRevolution blogs and realize that from a learning viewpoint maybe this event didn’t completely work for everyone, some writers didn’t really learn and in some cases didn’t hear anything new.

I’ve also read that some of the topics tend to get covered at other HR/Recruiting unconference type events now…as we become more regular attendees will we need constantly new topics to engage us, or just different people to discuss them with?

So far in my relatively short time attending unconferences, I have certainly:

–  Picked up information that I didn’t know before

–  Heard people’s views on subjects/topics/issues that made me think about them slightly differently (the topics, not the people)

–  Been able to talk, discuss and debate within small groups in a way in which I have gained information, knowledge and wisdom, as well as (I hope) passing on some of my own thoughts

Yet most of this has come when I have been part of a small group, or a break out group of 2 or 3…a bit like focus groups really. When there’s been a larger track, with many attendees, I’ve noticed a tendency to look to the track leaders to inform, direct, answer questions and provide commentary and insight…yet shouldn’t they be facilitators helping to keep the conversation flowing and on track? A bit like focus group moderators who ensure that everyone gets to join in the conversation and get heard.

Maybe if we are to get maximum benefit from Social Learning, especially from our unconferences, networking and crowd sourcing then…the answer may well lie in getting Social before you can get to the Learning

…I’d love to know what you think?

6 thoughts on “Is The Key To Social Learning in The ‘Social’ not The ‘Learning’?

  1. Absolutely. Social learning isn’t just about sitting round with a group of people, it’s connecting with people you have a relationship with. It’s these relationships that give knowledge an added element and which makes the learning deeper than that gained from formal training. If you don’t have relationships with the other people, these need to be developed first, or together. So it’s probably easier in smaller rather than larger groups. But it can be done in larger groups too, depending on the context, ie as long as everyone understands what the objective and approach is, participates in helping to achieve this, and that’s there time to do the social relationship as well as the content learning stuff.

  2. In almost 20 years of HR, part of that spent in training or orientation functions, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. I think e-learning has its place, but personally, I learn best in a conversation.

    If its basic information, its best delivered in a lecture, e-learning or structured environment. Once you are looking at opinion, or a broader based idea or solution to those fine line issues, its the small groups, the networking conversations, and what you’ve succinctly called “Social Learning” that make the difference, bring us new knowledge and confirm or alter our preconceived notions.

    As experienced members of our fields, we aren’t really going to get anything new out of a lecture unless its an update on legislation, a new technology or something similar. By attending unconferences and networking events, we obtain the ability to bounce specific ideas off experts or peers with different backgrounds.

    Loved the fact that you and I were able to share some time doing just this at #HRevolution. You do take from an event like that exactly what you put into it. I went to exchange knowledge – to meet people… to find out what others were thinking about the topics we discussed. And to share a cocktail or two with some awesome people in my field.

    (and this didn’t post last night, because apparently I can’t hit “submit”!)

  3. Food for thought, Mervyn! I agree with Jon that the social bit about learning is learning from others so relationships are key. Social media tools also help learning in two important ways:

    1 The learner can find out what they need to know at the right point in time ie I have a task to do and am unsure how to do it – I need help.
    2 By getting help at the point of need the learning outcome is vastly improved ie if I am shown what to do at the point at which I need help I will learn how to do it versus having to wait 6 weeks to go on a training course (and we all know what learning outcomes can be from these).

    Using Yammer and internal blogs in our organisation has helped with both these points.

    First, people can ask for help on Yammer at their point of need and will usually get help or be pointed in the direction of someone who can. As welll as learning how to do something a conversation/relationship is started.

    Second, by seeing these conversations the organisation is in a better place to see what types of training needs to be delivered ie conversation shows there is a skills gap so maybe an instructor-led session is required.

    Organisations need to start measuring these types of learning outcomes as well those from formal training sessions to get a proper view on what is working.

  4. I think Tammy makes a great point here – as experienced HR people – or whatever your field – its not about learning copious amounts of anything new. Maybe if its exploring some new technology or process, or dynamic, but thats not what the majority of conferences are about.

    Learning interventions are generally about picking up new skills and elearning definately has its place, esp in terms of supporting individuals at the desktop with new technology or other similar subjects. But its not a pancea. I was involved with a company in 99 that was developing elearning modules for performance management and not surprisingly its not become a huge elearning channel. You need interaction, mentoring and role play – in other words physical or real – to make that work.

    In terms of the unconferences, their popularity can be their undoing. Once a group gets bigger than 15 conversation – real conversation, debate etc – becomes harder or even stops. And that is what seemed to happen at HRevolution from what i understand with some tracks having 40+ people in them.

    Conversation, connection – getting social – can only be beneficial in my humble opinion. And although you dont hear socail media being talked about in terms of L&D very much, i think its got huge potential in this area. We just need to get more HR and L&D folk in particular to get involved.

  5. Great post as always, Mervyn!

    My take is that emphasising the social element of social learning is a great way to make the learning element more effective (in other words, to help the message to sink in). But it isn’t necessarily essential.

    Ironically, social learning also enables what might be defined as its diametric opposite: antisocial or asocial learning. However, this is by no means a negative aspect of social learning.

    Social media enable people to network, communicate and forge relationships in a way that mimics good old-fashioned human interaction 1.0.

    They also enable antisocial or asocial learning, as the individual doing the learning doesn’t necessarily have to be in the same room, town, nation or continent as one or any of the other participants. Indeed, social learning also enables “asynchronous class conversation” (thanks to my colleague David Shepherd for highlighting this term in a recent blog comment). In other words, you don’t necessarily have to be participating in the training session in question in the same hour, day, month, year, decade or century in order to benefit from it!

    One example of how this can be achieved is through the power of the Twitter hashtag.

    This isn’t necessarily any more or less effective than social learning that emphasises the social. But it’s fascinating nonetheless to consider that social learning technologies also make possible what might sound like their exact opposite: antisocial or asocial learning.

  6. I like your point, Michael. My slant would be that learning takes place in different ways and at different times (so isn’t it always asynchronous?) and now we have social media tools that make it easier to find the answers/help we need at the right time.

    The asynchronous nature of this learning is a challenge for organisations because it puts the users/individual/employee at the heart of the learning agenda. This is a risk and an opportunity. It’s also highly disruptive for organisations that have formal methods of training delivery and (and this is important) internal comms (between employee and organisation and between employees themselves).

    PS it’s hard work typing asynchronous!

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