Social Learning is NOT a new training trend

I’ve written a few postings recently (notably Social Learning doesn’t mean what you think it does) where I have tried to show how the fundamental changes in how businesses are operating, require a fundamental change in how the L&D function needs to view workplace learning.  I suggested this means a move from a “Command and Control” approach to an “Encourage and Engage” approach to Workplace Learning.

Although in my earlier posting I pointed out some of the features of these two approaches, in this posting I first want to summarize the two approaches again. This time I am going to refer to the first approach as  Traditional Workplace Learning and the second as New Workplace Learning.

Traditional workplace learning New workplace learning
Only what can be learnt in a formal context (and can be tracked) is of value.
Informal learning is irrelevant;
Learning is seen as separate activity from work – in different offsite/online space
Helping people to do their jobs (better) in the most appropriate ways (performance support/aids, training, productivity tools)
Support provided as close to the workflow as possible (ie not in a separate place or online space).
Online learning/solutions not more than one-click away
Emphasis CONTENT
Only expert-generated content is valid
Comprehensive knowledge-dumps
SOCIAL: Open conversations, collaboration, sharing, co-creation of content
CONTENT: Short, performance aids (in relevant formats – video, PDF, – rather than courses
Creating and producing formal courses and workshops using formal ISD/ADDIE methodologies
Identifying root cause of problems and finding the right solution to the problem. Workflow audits.
Management Mandating course use and completion
Tracking of learners’ activity on courses
Open access to content – lite-tracking of use
Encouraging social activity and participation (you can’t force (en)social)
Success Measurement Tests taken, courses completion, bums on seats Performance objectives: how well people do their jobs
Systems Course authoring tools
Learning Management Systems
Social and collaboration tools and platforms
Autonomy L&D decides what is learned and how/when it is learned Self-reliant learners/workers are encouraged (and developed)
Mindset Learning is the end goal
Learning is the means to the end, the end goal is (improved) performance

Although these two approaches are clearly quite different, what I am hearing is that some are advising (and others are believing) that it is enough for L&D departments to simply add “social” onto their traditional approach to learning – as follows:

Informal and social learning is just part of the blend which has been developed for the solutions. (Other learning outside that is irrelevant)
Learning delivered in a LMS considered to be in the workflow
Expert content-driven solutions (don’t trust learners to co-create content)
Moderated commenting on expert content supported (need to check all comments made are correct and valid)
All activity in online learning communities subject to scrutiny
Instructional design
(Performance consulting = carrying out a Training Needs Analysis)
Management Mandating course use and completion
Mandating social activity and tracking of course and social activity
Measurement Tests taken, courses completion, bums on seats
Social activity seen as a measure of learning
Systems Course authoring tools
Some social tools
Social Learning Management Systems
Autonomy L&D decides what is learned and how/when it is learned

This is clearly perpetuating the old model of training.

So what does it take to move the New Workplace Learning model – and new opportunities for all ?

The missing piece is of course a  new mindset.  Until that is in place, it  is just tinkering with the traditional ways of training and L&D, which are simply not “fit for purpose” in this day and age.

Furthermore, as Deb Lavoy explained in her posting:

“Business structures founded on command and control, automation and process are giving way to structures that are less hierarchical and more dynamic, designed to engage people’s hearts and minds to make a difference in the world. ”

L&D needs to make this fundamental change too!

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Jane Hart

Founder at C4LPT
Jane Hart is an independent workplace learning advisor, writer and international speaker, and is the Founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. She focuses on helping organisations with Modern Workplace Learning and individuals with Modern Professional Learning workshops. Find out more about Jane at

19 thoughts on “Social Learning is NOT a new training trend

  1. Msgurl2u

    I don’t think these are antithetical. Collaborative learning happens in well-designed courses that emphasize blended learning. The key with all learning is to get people enthusiastic and keep the dialogue going outside the classroom. It’s not rocket science. 🙂

      1. Nick

        You are right Jane. She missed the point, but the point has been missed for years. It has nothing to do with the Internet or edtech. Those are just things that help to make it more evident. Education has been failing for years, for some completely, for others partially. Some think their education has to do with their success, but that is mainly because they have not analysed, seriously or rigorously, the whole gamut of factors involved in their own personal development.

    1. Jane Bozarth

      No, it’s the idea of “well designed courses” that’s becoming antithetical. We need to stop thinking about keeping dialogue going outside the classroom and,rather, being part of the many, many more enthusiastic conversations that are already happening out in the workflow.

      1. Nic Laycock

        Jane – I agree. This is another example of trying to bring change about incrementally – where the real need is to look at the needs that emerge from a broken system – and then to do something different to meet those needs. To try to graft a “social” element on to a formal intervention is futile. What is needed is to understand that we live in a social world and to design any learning interventions with the knowledge that they are within that context

    1. Anonymous

      Things are already “breaking”. If L&D don’t change their mindset, they will only have a small part to play in the organistion creating formal courses, most people will use their own tools and devices to address their own learning/performance needs in more relevant ways. As I’ve shown in previous posts Forrester says 47% are using self-provisioned tools and devices, and a CLO article said that bt 1/3 and 2/3 of people are already working around L&D. These numbers will only grow.

    2. Nic Laycock

      Things need to break – very fundamentally. The old models will not deliver what is needed in the modern world whether you look at it from any one of a wide range of parameters. The sooner we stop looking at things incrementally and accept that there is a need for something entirely different the sooner we will be able to help people, organisations and society learn in its new environment.

  2. marciamarcia

    Thank you, Jane, for so ardently making (and remaking) these points until they are heard, wrestled with, connected with what our first hand experience has taught us, and understood. Personally, I continue to struggle with discussions I hear often about people “designing learning.” We can design training, and we can create opportunities where people learn… be it peer to peer in a collaborative way, expert to novice, or a combination… but what is designed is training or opportunity. Learning is what each of us as living, breathing, thinking human beings do on our own, sometimes with the assistance of another, every day, all day, and without design unless it’s of our own. If we’re encouraging people to think differently, with a new mindset, and breaking things along the way, I hope we can also work on breaking the notion we can develop learning for other people. It’s as silly of an idea as designing or developing breathing for other people.

    1. Anonymous

      Thanks Marcia – have a few more posts up my sleeve too! But the mindset change – from thinking L&D needs to design, manage and control every bit of “learning” – is going to take a long time for some to let go of, isn’t it? Fortunately, there are some organisations out there who are already doing things very differently, but old “command and control” mentalities have underpinned so many of our traditional organisations for too long. Even if they don’t change, I think the people will change and just do their own thing – and L&D will probably end up painted in a tiny corner just producing regulatory or compliance courses.

    2. Anonymous

      Thanks Marcia – have a few more posts up my sleeve too! But the mindset change – from thinking L&D needs to design, manage and control every bit of “learning” – is going to take a long time for some to let go of, isn’t it? Fortunately, there are some organisations out there who are already doing things very differently, but old “command and control” mentalities have underpinned so many of our traditional organisations for too long. Even if they don’t change, I think the people will change and just do their own thing – and L&D will probably end up painted in a tiny corner just producing regulatory or compliance courses.

  3. Rdjleader

    Nice presentation of ideas. It reminds me of position that I take and wrote in my blog that there is not a single mode of professional learning. There are really four types based on organization needs and specific learning function. All organizations need to be, at time, autocratic, particularly around issues of safety and fiscal responsibility. Being autocratic will not sustain an organization for the long haul and often is an obstacle to adapting to change. Organizations need to be both creative and collaborative at times to move forward. Finally organizations should strive for being adaptive, while there are times leaders need to revert to the other three modes. Likewise professional learning mode should parallel and support the organization leadership mode. There is need for training in some skills related to authoritarian tasks. (You don’t want creative accountants.) Workshops and externally facilitated learning can stimulate creative work. Internal, personalized collaborative learning empowers staff. Finally the adaptive organizations blends all of these meaning modes.

  4. Brent MacKinnon

    I consult mostly with non profit groups. Your posts are helping me make sense of what’s happening in the workplace and giving me better language to talk to executives/management. In that sector, the top down, command and control system is well in place even though with many groups there is a benevolent feel to the hierarchical structure. In small to medium size organizations, there is no L&D Department. Learning to do your job better is “catch as you can” and a workshop or two each year – if there is a budget for the workshop. The management’s mindset is what determines the learning culture of the organization and typically workplace learning is not a high priority (or just not on the radar).

    Your point about the missing piece – mindset, really got me thinking. I see that your operative words for that mindset are “encourage & engage”. Also your focus on performance of the organization and of employees is a useful entry point for me to talk about the changing nature of workplace learning. When it comes to employees and managements role in performance appraisals there is such an built in command and control dynamic in play. I think as workers exercise their autonomy, and management embrace the mindset of encourage and engage, that command and control culture will dissolve. I understand better that working at workplace re-structuring from both ends – top and bottom (management and worker) is so important.

    Thanks for your provocative posts Jane. I look forward to your new book.


  5. @designedlearnin

    I identify with your vision Jane of what ‘social leaning’ could be but we must be careful not to throw the baby out the bathwater. I recognise many of the social learning approaches from work I’d did earlier in my career specifically EPSS and knowledge management. Now both of these shiny new approaches were heavily sponsored and promoted by software vendors and one could argue that KM actually came in two flavours – systems driven KM (think knowledge bases) and people driven KM (think communities of practice). Today the social media tools and connectors we have make the people focused type of KM much more practicable BUT KM failed in many organisations because of cultures that don’t always recognise the benefits of sharing knowledge and learning from each other. One key problem is my experience is that employees are expected to ‘learn as they earn’ and this can mean that the quality of learning suffers. This is one of the big disadvantages of e-learning – people are expected to do it but are not actually allocated any time outside of their normal working day. That’s the big advantage of ‘formal learning’ – time is allocated to it – when you go on a training day you can leave the day job behind and hopefully tap into a deeper learning experience. The question is how can we move towards a more flexible and responsive bottom-up learning culture but still keep some of the successful face-to-face experiences that have characterised the top-down approaches?

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