The concept of social learning can be somewhat unclear. Isn’t all learning “social” in some respect?
If we overthink the semantics then I agree that social learning can seem somewhat redundant.
The textbook definition for social learning is as follows:
Social learning theory (Albert Bandura) posits that learning is a cognitive process that takes place in a social context and can occur purely through observation or direct instruction, even in the absence of motor reproduction or direct reinforcement.
To put this more simply: social learning happens as we observe (or are told) about new ideas.
In other words, you don’t need to physically act-out these new ideas to learn or implement them.
As people share ideas we learn. This sharing tends to be informal in a variety of contexts, even digital such as on social networks.
Even though the definition of social learning may be hard to grasp, the impact that it can have on an organization is pretty significant.
The infographic below (created by Bloomfire) shares some of the positive results that can come from consciously implementing a social learning program at your organization.
It should come as no surprise that most learners report that they learn better (and more often) through informal channels. Yet despite this, many companies are still willing to invest heavily in more formal training.
Perhaps this is because it seems like it is easier to establish a return on investment from formal training events. While processes are certainly in place to determine training ROI, they aren’t limited to just formal initiatives. Social learning ROI can also be established, as pointed out below.
Ultimately I think an organization needs a good mix of both formal and informal (social) learning opportunities. Given that social learning is often how most people learn, it’s probably a good idea for companies to understand their own social learning cultures and how to cultivate it.