What types of images does the phrase “social learning” conjure up for you? Is it an ideal picture of a cross-collaborative office environment? Is it an intimate classroom where each individual is able to conceptualize lessons to apply to his or her environment once they return to their jobs? Or is it an online community of practice where everyone is free to ask any question?

In a report published in 2010 in the journal Ecology and Society titled “What Is Social Learning?” Mark S. Reed and ten co-authors concluded that there is little consensus over the meaning of the term social learning. So how do we know when social learning has occurred or even how to measure its impact in our work environments? Reed and his co-authors maintain that in order for a process to be social learning, it has to:

  1. Demonstrate a change in understanding at the individual level.
  2. Show that the change goes beyond the individual and becomes part of a community of practice.
  3. Take place through interactions within a social network.

By nature people are collaborative, but usually within their own workspace or the context of their organization. As learning leaders, you must continue to ask yourselves how do you create a wider social setting that allows learning to transcend the individual who directly participated in training. And if you want to distinguish the process as being social learning, how do you foster internetwork collaboration that encompasses diversity of thought, a balance of power (neutralizing power so that higher job titles do not have greater authority) and different geographic locations?

Despite the debates that are raging in the learning space, it is my fundamental belief that social learning has little to do with technology itself — technology will continue to evolve. The real catalyst in a social workforce is human behavior or the need to collaborate in a more efficient way. In this case, technology can be a great  enabler — but not necessarily a catalyst.

As such, it’s about determining a learning mode and the tools needed to embrace how your workforce wants to absorb and mobilize knowledge. It becomes less about consuming and holding on to that knowledge and more about sharing knowledge. This approach to social learning will surely connect the dots and inspire the innovative thought needed to enact useful differentiated solutions together.

Tammara Combs

Tammara Combs

Tammara Combs is the founder of Serendipity Interactive, LLC, a company that specializes in multichannel sales and marketing, customer-centered design and IT managed services. As a corporate vice president at Lowe’s Companies, Combs had responsibility for the company’s corporate e-commerce website and shaped the online strategy for the company. In this role, Combs managed the customer experience, merchandising and marketing of the site. With more than 15 years of experience in social computing, her focus has been in online community development related to grassroots creativity and innovation within corporations. Previously at Microsoft, she has served in a number of roles – spearheading product development, user experience, market intelligence and research projects. She can be reached at editor@CLOMedia.com.
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