What You Should Know About Social Learning

One of the challenges HR professionals face is how to manage and disseminate trainingSocial learning happens outside a formal setting and characterized by information sharing, collaboration and co-creation. materials effectively across a company’s many offices. In recent years, there has been a surge of new tools making use of mobile and web technologies to seamlessly supplement or replace more outdated corporate training programs. While adopting and familiarizing yourself with new technologies is a great way to evolve your company’s HR practices for the future, it’s worth noting that you have one of your most important training resources available close at hand that should not be overlooked: your employees.

Social media has proven itself to be a useful tool across a variety of applications in the 21st century corporate landscape, and corporate training and education is no exception. Mobile and web technology is rapidly decentralizing the workplace. CNN reported a 67 percent increase in employees of private companies working from home over the past 10 years. This trend, along with the social media-conscious millennial workforce that’s growing exponentially, creates a new impetus for companies to turn to social learning.

While not a new concept, social learning has seen tremendous growth in recent years thanks to more companies adopting social media strategies, both for brand management and customer service as well as internal applications. Like any newly implemented paradigm, social learning has encountered its share both of successes and hiccups. The following information on how you can leverage social learning effectively for your company, as well as what potential pitfalls await you, bear consideration.

What Social Learning Can Do For You

Social learning was defined by American Society for Training and Development CEO Tony Bingham as “learning that happens outside a formal structure or classroom,” that “centers on information sharing, collaboration and co-creation.” While this can cover anything including a group of friends sharing notes in a coffee shop, in a corporate setting, this often takes the form of company-supported internal social media networks.

According to HR Examiner, the efficacy of social learning is dependent upon how many employees are engaged in the most active sphere of the social network—what is referred to as the “committed.” These are the people who exchange knowledge, taking on the role of both teacher and learner. These workers are the ones who are the most individually motivated and driven by the process of shared collaborative learning. As an HR professional looking to successfully implement a social learning structure, your goal should be to increase this group of “committed” social learners as much as possible.

There are benefits to be derived from a well-functioning social learning plan. For one, its autonomous nature means less manpower and HR resources need to go into direct training and development. While you certainly won’t be able to do away completely with formally structured corporate training, especially for new hires, letting employees direct their own learning can lead to a much more hands-off approach later down the road, reported Chief Learning Officer magazine.

A blogger writing for American Express reported that, according to a recent survey, talent development and training are some of the biggest concerns for CEOs. With this goal in mind, the efficiency of social learning is a huge boon, not to mention that younger millennial workers already come preloaded with an affinity for social media, and are much more receptive to this type of training platform, leading to higher engagement and retention.

What You Should Look Out For

Before making the decision to embrace social learning for your company, it’s important to understand not only the benefits you can derive from it, but also the potential pitfalls you may face. Social media is ultimately just a tool, and if not used properly, will not yield the desired results.

According to Chief Learning Officer magazine, a major challenge for PR professionals is to balance the extent to which social media is used by employees. The organic, open communication style fostered by social learning is a definite benefit, but if things like usage guidelines are not implemented, you run the risk of conversation veering off topic or losing direction. One of the most important clarifications to make from the start is identifying what information is to be discussed through company social channels and, more importantly, what information is explicitly not to be discussed. Without a clear objective, direction, and policy, the potential for employees to misrepresent brands or company ideals through social media channels, either internal or external, is a great risk that must be considered.

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