What Does “Social Learning” Actually Mean?

Today there has been much emphasis on social learning – but like any new and hot trend, it can become easy for the concept to lose its meaning. I mean, what exactly is social learning… can it be consistently defined?

The question of defining social learning came to me today when I was in a conversation with someone who emailed me regarding the WPLMS project. We were having a pleasant back-and-forth, during which I stood on my soapbox a bit to proclaim my view that WordPress offers tremendous opportunity for social learning, should an organization choose to implement it.

But then I thought, “What does that even mean…social learning?

I have my idea of what social learning entails, but the more I think about it, the more I believe that this concept is pretty subjective, and we should be careful using it in broad sweeping statements. Social learning can range from an informal conversation at the water cooler to the “Wall” feature currently available in Facebook groups. If we want to get philosophical with it, the very notion that humans are social beings by nature means that everything we do (and learn) can be associated with social influences, and therefore be labeled as “social learning”… (I know, a little over the top, but you get my point, right?)

My goal isn’t to get lost in the semantics of it all, I think those of us in the learning industry have a general concept in our minds as to what constitutes as social learning. I would just suggest a bit of caution when referencing it in client meetings or other conversations. It’s kind of like the “war on drugs”… it sounds great but what does it actually entail?

As you know, the answer is “many things”, and we should attempt to define those exact solutions and strategies for the situation. There are a couple of benefits to doing this:

  1. First, it helps us as learning professionals better articulate an actionable strategy (or plan) for implementing social learning
  2. And secondly, it establishes more credibility with those who aren’t engrossed in our field (as I feel I am constantly battling the “fluffy” image that learning often receives)

So perhaps next time you are in a conversation and the idea of social learning comes up, make an honest attempt to clearly define what feature(s) you are referencing, why it is social, and why it is a good for business. At the very least, it will put everyone on the same page and pave the way for the next logical steps.

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About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by the world's leading organizations, such as the University of Michigan, Digital Marketer, WPEngine, and Infusionsoft. Justin has made a career as an elearning consultant where he has implemented large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies. Twitter | LinkedIn

One Comment
  1. Yvonne Price

    Well said! I agree it pays to be clear when talking with clients who are not familiar with learning concepts and what they entail. Social learning has become such a widely used phrase – thrown around all the time – but it can be very ambiguous. Since everyone knows what “social” means and what “learning” means, it’s easy for a client to quickly sum up a definition of social + learning in their own minds. And who knows what that definition might be. Nice article!

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