Social Learning: what actually is it?

Following my last post Social Learning: Are you starting from the right place, I was asked to explain what “social learning” actually is in an organizational context. Rather than provide a bland definition, I thought I would provide some quotes from some key resources that will give a flavour of what it is all about.

If you haven’t yet come across The New Social Learning book (by Marcia Conner and Tony Bingham), this is a must-read. Marcia explains:

“At its most basic level, social learning can result in people becoming more informed, gaining a wider perspective, and being able to make better decisions by engaging with others. It acknowledges that learning happens with and through other people, as a matter of participating in a community, not just by acquiring knowledge.”

One of my favourite articles about social learning was also written by Marcia Conner – together with Steve LeBlanc, Where social learning thrives, and they state:

“Social learning is not just the technology of social media, although it makes use of it. It is not merely the ability to express yourself in a group of opt-in friends. Social learning combines social media tools with a shift in the corporate culture, a shift that encourages ongoing knowledge transfer and connects people in ways that make learning a joy.”

Harold Jarche in a blog post, Social Learning, complexity and the enterprise, (that originated as a white paper), looks at why social learning is  important for today’s enterprise.  It is chock-full of explanation and detail, but here are a couple of snippets”:

“A collective, social learning approach … takes the perspective that learning and work happen as groups and how the group is connected (the network) is more important than any individual node within it.”

“Social learning is how groups work and share knowledge to become better practitioners.”

“Knowledge workers get things done by conversing with peers, customers and partners, as they solve the problems of the day. Learning from these social interactions is a key to business innovation.”

And what does all this mean for L&D, Jay Cross makes it clear, in No more business as usual

“Continuous improvement and delighting customers require a culture of pervasive learning. We’re not talking classes and workshops here. Creating a new order of business requires learning ecologies — what we’ve been calling Workscapes — that make it simple and enjoyable for people to learn what they need to get the job done. Companies that fail to learn will wither and die.

As all business becomes social business, L&D professionals face a momentous choice. They can remain Chief Training Officers and instructors who get novices up to speed, deliver events required by compliance, and run in-house schools. These folks will be increasingly out of step with the times.

Or they can become business leaders who shape learning cultures, social networks, collaborative practices, information flows, federated content management, just-in-time performance support, customer feedback mechanisms, and structures for continuous improvement.”

Want to find out more? Come and visit the Social Learning Centre.

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Jane Hart

Founder at C4LPT
Jane Hart is an independent workplace learning advisor, writer and international speaker. She is the Founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies. Her recent book Modern Workplace Learning: A Resource Book for L&D is now available, which she supports with a range of online workshops. Find out more about Jane at

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