Why Social Learning Benefits Your Business

Using social media can be a powerful and effective training tool for your business.
May 14, 2012

Classroom training isn’t dead, but it also isn’t the answer for every training need. Social media tools are changing the game when it comes to employee learning. And thanks to workplace collaboration tools, organizations can create environments in which employees can learn from each other instead of the overly formal status quo or from the proverbial "company expert."

For training programs to be effective, businesses must use the right methods and mediums for their training sessions and their audience. Given the popularity of social media, it only seems logical to explore how social media tools can have a positive impact on the learning experience.

What It Means

Tony Bingham, president and CEO of the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), defines social learning as “learning that happens outside a formal structure or classroom." Instead, it centers on information sharing, collaboration and co-creation, he says.

In today’s workplace, social learning means learning with and from others. It happens at conferences, cafés or online–with or without social media tools.

However, one thing is certain about social learning: It’s not a replacement for traditional classroom training. “There will always be some kinds of training that must be done in a classroom setting because of the requirements of the training or skill mastery demands, like certification, compliance and deep learning." Bingham explains.

Social Learning Benefits

Surveys of CEOs continue to report that recruiting and developing talent are their top concerns. In addition, ASTD Research notes that by 2020, nearly half (46%) of all U.S. workers will be Millennials.

Organizations have to gain an understanding of how a new generation of workers likes to learn, how they use technology and their preferred means of communication. This will be essential in creating training curriculum, development programs and succession plans.

Bingham says it’s possible to calculate the return on social learning, but it’s not the traditional ROI formula: “It requires alignment to what’s important to the organization, and often that includes retaining institutional knowledge, solving complex problems collaboratively and attracting people to your organization.”

Maria Ogneva, director of community at Yammer, says, “If your goal is to increase customer satisfaction, perhaps the impact metric you are looking for is the increase of speed of a response to a customer, and how collaboration helps you do that. For any social effort to be successful, it has to tie to a business objective.”

Barriers to Social Learning

Business leaders need to realize that employees are already using social tools, whether it’s approved or not. Instead of prohibiting the use of social media, savvy business leaders should harness its power to drive business results. Bingham notes, “It’s important to make the distinction between a management problem and a technology problem. Most often, problems that occur with the use of social media are management problems.”

Bingham adds that he sees a concern that the use of social media tools may result in intellectual property, company secrets or business strategy being divulged by a workforce given social media tools. His recommendation?

“Organizations should have an intellectual property policy in place that outlines clear expectations–and consequences–for inappropriate activity. This policy should consider the multitude of possibilities for the use of an organization’s intellectual property.”

Clearly communicate those guidelines throughout the entire organization. The goal isn’t to create obstacles to learning but a respectful, effective means to using social tools.

Implementing Social Learning Within Your Organization

Before rolling-out a social learning strategy, take a good look at your company culture. Determine if the company is ready to incorporate social learning into its training and development strategy. Adding social just because it sounds progressive isn’t productive for the workforce.

Any time a company is testing the new territory, it’s beneficial to start small. Find a program or an initiative that would be well-served by employing social technologies and let the people involved with it experiment to find what works.

After using a new technology, evaluate the success of the program. Get feedback on three levels:

  • From the participants who used the social tool: How did it help or hinder the learning experience?
  • From the administrators of the social tool: Was it easy or difficult to use, explain to others and get participant involvement?
  • From the management team: What was their perception of the results gained from using a social tool within their work teams?

This feedback will help refine the best social learning methods to incorporate for future activities.

Social media platforms will continue to develop and evolve. More and more individuals will start using them for their personal brands and professional lives. Employees will demand simplicity and expect workplace training to incorporate the tools they use on a regular basis.

Would you like to see more social in your training programs? Leave your thoughts in the comments.