Digital social learning, as suggested by several experts, is certainly not a new phenomenon. It is an approach that actually reproduces and enhances the learning mechanisms inherent in human nature. Over the last few years, technology and Web 2.0 have given a strong boost to social learning and replacing the logic of transmission with models that put people at the centre of the learning experience. Thanks to the spread of new technology and the advent of social media, space-time barriers have been surpassed and people in different geographically locations can develop networks of relationships and connections through which to interact, discuss, contribute and, therefore, learn on a much larger scale. So, what does social learning mean? Social learning (among others Siemens, 2005 London & Hall, 2010 Wals, van der Hoeven and Blanken, 2009 Shum & Ferguson, 2012 Thomas, K. J., & Akdere, M., 2013):
- is based on the idea that knowledge is a social phenomenon that is based on building relationships, sharing of ideas, experiences and knowledge, as well as the ability to access content from different resources
- assumes that you learn better and more when there is diversity (of opinions, actions, etc.), therefore in diverse social networks and groups
- occurs through processes of reflection, co-creation, collaboration and the sharing of knowledge, starting from individual assumptions and knowledge that are often tacit
- is driven/stimulated by a desireto find answers, solve problems, overcome uncertainties, improve yourself and your ability to work
- is fostered by engagement and trust
- encouragesthe development of peer review and peer mentoring processes
- facilitates the building of common meanings and, therefore, sensemaking.
Some authors point out that reflection on what is not social learning can promote a better understanding of the issue (Bingham & Conner, 2015, p.7). In the first place, it is more than and different to what we call e-learning. It is not a synonym for informal learning, although it is part of that: it always includes a social component that cannot be found in some forms of informal learning. It is not opposed to formal learning processes (classrooms, etc.), but complements and completes them. The applications of social learning in organisations can vary greatly: innovation and improvement projects, campaigns for spreading values, engagement initiatives, professional community development, support for change management processes, blended training courses, programmes aimed at intergenerational learning and intercultural management. Let’s take a look at some of the pillars that offer a start point.
DESIGNING AND CHOOSING THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT AND TOOLS CAREFULLY
An important aspect is the choice and the design of practices, tools and, more in general, the environment. Some examples of practices and tools that can be adopted include: smart Intranets, corporate social networks, storytelling, gamification, online and off-line collaborative activities (virtual brainstorming, bar-camp, wiki-innovation projects), contests, surveys, microvideos, wikis. To plan a social environment that is not only designed to create and facilitate connections between people (a bit like the social media that we use in everyday life), but is aimed at learning, it is also worth keeping in mind certain aspects. Below are some examples (Buckingham Shum and Ferguson 2010):
- a recommender system based on activities, styles and learning profiles that help participants connect to new ideas and knowledge
- an interface that stimulates reflection and conversations rather than quick and simple exchanges of information
- mechanisms to stimulate peer review and/or one-to-one mentorship processes
- individual e-portfolios highlighting the processes and results of learning and support the certification/recognition of the knowledge/skills acquired
- analytics that are not merely generic, but geared towards learning.
CREATING A FERTILE ORGANISATIONAL ENVIRONMENT
Are tools and technology sufficient to support social digital learning processes and initiatives? There is little doubt that these aspects are inadequate when trying to implement effective initiatives. Technology and social media are a means to catalyse relationships and pool ideas, knowledge, skills and contributions. The core of effective social learning processes always feature people and their experiences and knowledge. Without ever forgetting the role played by the environment! In order to take root, social learning has to find a fertile organizational environment, consisting of culture, practices and organisational processes aimed at innovation, collaboration, trust and knowledge sharing. For people to play leading roles, it is important to disseminate and guarantee digital skills that allow them to use the tools available and make their own contributions. It is essential for all initiatives or projects to be able to count on the sponsorship and commitment of top management. Lastly, one of the main challenges is to implement governance systems that are able to find the right balance between formality and informality, spontaneity and design.
THE ROLE OF DESIGNERS AND TRAINERS
Lastly, adopting digital and social learning logic at the same time implies rethinking the role of the designers and trainers who are tasked with putting aside traditional approaches and paradigms and developing new skills. Which new skills, mainly? First, knowing how to facilitate links and connections between people, teachers and resources. Second, using new and different languages and teaching methodologies, innovating the logic and metrics for assessing the results of learning. Last but certainly not least, stimulating motivation, involvement and continuous participation. This topic was discussed in posterLab no. 25: “Digital social learning” Sara Mormino Bibliographical references
- Bingham, T., & Conner, M. (2015). The new social learning. Association For Talent Development.
- London, M., & Hall, M. J. (2011). Unlocking the value of Web 2.0 technologies for training and development: The shift from instructor-controlled, adaptive learning to learner-driven, generative learning. Human Resource Management,50 (6), 757-775.
- Shum, S. B., & Ferguson, R. (2012). Social Learning Analytics. Educational technology & society, 15 (3), 3-26.
- Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: Learning as network-creation. ASTD Learning News, 10 (1).
- Thomas, K. J., & Akdere, M. (2013). Social media as collaborative media in workplace learning. Human Resource Development Review, 12 (3), 329-344.
- Wals, A. E., van der Hoeven, N., & Blanken, H. (2009). The acoustics of social learning. Designing learning processes that contribute to a more sustainable world. Wageningen: Wageningen Academic Publishers.