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6 Best Practices for Implementing Social Learning in your Organization

Social_LearningAccording to Albert Bandura, the founder of social learning theory, social learning is comprised of three types of instructional learning models:

  • Live model – an instructional video or presentation where a person demonstrates the task or process
  • Verbal instruction model – where someone describes the desired behavior or task in detail and instructs the participant in how to do it  
  • Symbolic model – a real or fictional character demonstrating a task or behavior through a media source like a movie, book, television, etc.
The critical measure of learning is to see the modeled task, skill, attitude, or behavior replicated by the learner. In terms of social learning, there is formal versus informal training, where the former is approved, vetted, and repeatable and often a reflection of the organization’s strategy, and the latter is the sweet spot which relies on the experiences, expertise, and skillsets of employees to enrich training.

Some of the key advantages of a thoughtful social learning strategy are that it generates authentic learning opportunities; establishes and promotes a dynamic learning culture; values the experience, skills, and knowledge of employees; enhances formal training experiences; and provides critical qualitative feedback to instructors and Learning & Development (L&D) leaders.

Here are 6 best practices for implementing social learning in your organization:

1. Govern lightly

The best usages of social learning are going to take advantage of social learning collaboration tools where you allow appropriate and organic conversation to occur. You don’t want to stifle the conversation with a heavy-handed approach.

2. Start Slowly

Don’t take the cookie cutter approach and apply your social learning program to everyone in the organization. The best usages of social learning, and the most effective, are those in which you are targeting a population that’s ideally suited for the application and with whom you can measure results and effectiveness. In other words, make sure to have a pilot strategy.

3. Partner with compliance functions

Taking the first two points into consideration, partner with compliance or legal staff, especially if you are in a highly-regulated industry

4. Monitor like a gold miner, not a censor!

The old parenting adage, “it’s better to catch someone doing something right than to scold someone for doing something wrong,” comes to mind. To get the full value from the social learning program, the job of the L&D professional or the moderator is to facilitate this idea in the direction you want it to go in support of your business goals and processes.

5. Identify champions

In order for social learning to work, you have to build enough of a consensus and enough of a belief in the inherent value of doing it for the practice to take traction in the organization. Organizations can often view social learning as gimmicky and not as controlled, so it is important to identify folks in leadership positions or power that can act as champions for the program. This will get you further along and support your strategic goals for a social learning approach.

6. Seeding your pilot program with content

One of the things you don’t want to do is roll out a social learning program and have it be bereft of content for people to interact with. What you want to do when rolling out social learning is give folks the impression that they are late to the party. Ideally, having ongoing discussions prior to the person arriving as part of the group is going to enhance the user experience when they go in and first interact with something, rather than arriving and having it be a digital ghost town.


Keep in mind that social learning outcomes and artifacts should be timely, relevant, moderated, and reviewed so they can be incorporated into formal learning when necessary. Social learning should be viewed as a critical supplement to an existing formal training strategy, not a replacement.

For further details and information on social learning and how it might be of use to your organization, check out our recent webinar on the topic.


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Nick Donatelli

Consultant, Learning Management Services

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