Social Learning Tools: Debunking the Myths
February 7, 2018
Social media might be a modern invention, but social learning certainly isn’t.
For almost 100 years now, educational theorists have recognized social learning’s power to extend and reinforce traditional learning methods.
Put simply, social learning is the modern day water cooler – or the modern breakroom where employees share on-the-job knowledge and creative solutions.
As our employees are increasingly spread across multiple cities or are working remotely, social learning is becoming even more important to company culture. According to the 6th Annual Learning in the Workplace study, 93% of employees ranked “on-the-job experience” as essential to how they learn, followed closely by social learning at 90%.
And, in a smaller study on top-requested LMS features by employees, 24% self-reported a desire for discussion boards on their LMS, while 23% also wanted the option to upload and share content with their peers. That’s roughly 50% of learners asking us for social learning tools to extend their formal learning!
So, if social learning is so desirable, why are some companies reluctant to adopt social learning tools into their organizational culture?
The Biggest Barrier to Social Learning
Remarkably, the Masie Learning Consortium has discovered the number one barrier to social adoption is organizational culture. If you’ve been around the corporate training world for while, this probably doesn’t surprise you. It can be difficult to sell the value of social learning up the ladder.
And let’s be honest: most LMS’s social learning functions have been subpar for a long time, hampered by bad user interfaces that make good, helpful content hard to find. But that’s not the case anymore. Modern LMS platforms with social learning tools, like Spoke, make it incredibly easy for both moderators and learners.
So, in the spirit of dispelling myths, here are four common misconceptions and fears we hear from training professionals about social learning – and why there’s no need to be afraid anymore.
Social Learning Drives Formal Learning
“Our eLearning and ILT courses are really effective, so we don’t need social learning.”
Informal learning tools extend and reinforce formal learning experiences.
Remember the old Cone of Experience model? It states that people remember 10% of what they hear, 20% of what they see, and so on. If your training still relies on the Cone of Experience, then it’s definitely time to explore a new model.
The truth is, we know that “chunking” information into bite-sized courses increases retention rate and that this mode of formal micro-learning has to be reinforced with informal learning practices, like social learning.
In Chip and Dan Heath’s Made To Stick, they refer to this as “talking shop,” or sharing personal workplace experiences. In marketing or training terms, we call this storytelling. People love to share experiences, and when we encourage those conversations, they result in greater learning.
Here’s how Jeff Cobb explains it in Leading the Learning Revolution:
“As much as 80% of our learning happens in an informal manner, and a great deal of it is based on our interactions with other people. Why does it matter? It is very often in the context of this 80% that we make decisions about more formal learning opportunities. If you are not there, not engaged, not providing value, then the chances that a prospect will come to see you or your organization as the source to go to for more formal, paid learning experiences diminishes dramatically.”
In other words, our informal learning experiences drive our desire to seek out further formal learning content in our organizations. When we don’t provide social learning tools, our learners seek out ways to connect elsewhere.
If it’s my money, I’d rather provide social learning tools to my teams, watch them flourish, and then analyze the discussion to learn how I can provide better training experiences.
Moderating Social Learning Tools
“I don’t have time to moderate discussion boards and police wrong answers or bad behavior.”
It’s easy to designate moderators and enable safe content filters.
Good leaders all have one skill in common: they know how to delegate.
Moderating each and every social interaction in your LMS shouldn’t be your sole responsibility (even if you are a one-person army). And, with a social learning LMS like Spoke, features like moderators and profanity filters means it doesn’t have to be.
As a training strategist, I always recommend identifying influential subject-matter experts (SMEs) and designating them as your social community moderators. Here’s how you can do it.
First, like your favorite social media platforms, Spoke calculates how engaging posts are to your audience, and how many people have found the post content helpful. This makes identifying your company’s top influencers easy, and you can always see who’s at the top of the list (check out the screenshot below).
Next, identify the right top influencers and key SMEs for each training topic and give them moderator permission in the LMS. Spoke allows you to designate moderator permissions without giving people full-admin access, so you never have to worry about too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen.
And finally, if you’re worried about profanity or illicit content, both you and your moderators can enable the safe content filter to give that extra peace of mind.
Moderators can also deprioritize discussions they don’t want to trend, or if needed, they can turn off commenting functions for individual posts. On Spoke, we also ask every user to agree to community guidelines when they first join the platform, which reduces the risk of unwanted behaviors.
Finding The Right Answer is Easy
“It’s impossible to find good answers to topics, because they’re buried in old discussion threads.”
Global search and linking news stories to courses and discussion topics make content super easy to find.
If you’ve spent time comparing LMS platforms, you know many of them boast social learning tool suites, but it’s little more than a text-heavy, hard-to-navigate message board. A truly modern social learning LMS extends and reinforces training by building “deep hooks” into formal content and elevating the learning experience.
To develop these deep hooks, you need a platform that allows you to create what we call horizontal link structures between content.
For example, in Spoke, it’s easy for a manager to post a news update announcing new sales packages and include a link to relevant course content or discussion threads. This moves learners seamlessly between news, course, and discussion content, eliminating the old problem of “siloed content.”
To make discussion posts easy to navigate, Spoke’s interface replicates well-known social media user experiences by building threaded conversations to keep everything all in one place. Users can also upload their own image and video content to a post for things like practicing a sales pitch or showing how you properly executed your planogram.
And, the cherry on top? We added a sorting function so you can search discussions by trending topics, and a search function so you can look up a topic like “retention” and see the most relevant discussions across the company.
And finally, for all the techies in the room, Spoke uses an advanced algorithm that calculates engagement, recognizes top influencers, and looks at up-votes to display the content that is most relevant to your learners.
If you want to see all these tools in action, check out our short, two-minute introduction to Spoke Community.
Social Learning Tools vs. Enterprise Social Networks
“We already have Slack, so we don’t need social learning features in our LMS.”
Using enterprise social networks (ESN) for learning creates confusion about where to find the right answers.
If you’re already using an ESN like Slack or HipChat, then you know it’s a great workaround for quick, internal email. But there’s a two-fold problem with relying on ESNs to solve your training department’s social learning problem.
First, humans are not naturally great at organization or communication. Shocking, I know!
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), simple miscommunications cost small business around $42,000 a year, and up to $62 million a year for enterprise companies. ESNs were supposed to solve the problem of getting too many internal emails, but they simply added another communication channel into our work stream that actually makes finding answers even harder to do.
Now, instead of using ESNs as a silver bullet to solve our communication woes, companies are facing the single source of truth problem. Increased communication channels mean increased confusion.
Is that Excel file pinned to my Slack channel, or did I email it to our group chain?
Did Maryanne post that troubleshooting solve in the LMS or in our technician’s group channel?
To solve this, drive users to a single source of truth for answers to their questions – and what better place to send users looking for answers than to your LMS?
When you migrate informal learning to your LMS, you increase your week-over-week login rate, which means you drive new workplace behaviors for your learners. And as we all know, creating behavioral change is the road to true personal growth.
Time To Get Social!
Let me end with a short story.
In 2010, employees at a major, global retailer asked the management team if they could start a local Facebook group to share sales tips, connect with co-workers, and coordinate shift swaps. The official response was that social media groups were against corporate policy. So what happened? The employees started their own Facebook groups and the management was never invited.
The moral of the story is, when your employees are asking for social learning tools, figure out the best solution and give them what they’re asking for, or, run the risk of them developing an informal system of learning on their own.
Get started creating a robust culture of social learning today, because informal learning is a critical component in delivering true behavioral change in the workplace.
Take a look at Spoke or schedule a demo, and come see what a truly modern social learning platform can do for your organizational culture!