Your organization no doubt sees the value of an eLearning program. You may have invested in a user-friendly Learning Management System (LMS), on-demand training and the necessary number of developers to create sufficient content. However, your results may not be what you expect if you don’t add a human touch to eLearning. You need to incorporate a social learning component.
Social Learning Theory was coined by Albert Bandura in 1977. Among its key components are the ideas that learning must be active and that it takes place in social contexts. This theory also espouses the view that learning occurs when people observe others.
This theory should help to inform your existing eLearning programs since people often learn better when they are part of a community. It is true that eLearning fosters self-study but learners shouldn’t constantly feel alone. You should encourage teamwork and allow for social networking within your LMS. Learners should be able to share the courses they love, discuss learning materials with each other and leave comments for co-workers or managers. When there is a collaborative component, you will find that learners enjoy engaging with the content more. They are, therefore, more likely to actually benefit from the training.
A 2014 survey by the Brandon Hall Group found that 73% of businesses said they wanted to increase their focus on social learning. Over 60% wanted workers to interact with learning resources on a daily basis. This means you or your course designer should really start focusing on the social component. Remember that rewards and punishment, the behavior of supervisors and other environmental factors can influence learning outcomes.
When there is a collaborative component, you will find that learners enjoy engaging with the content more. They are, therefore, more likely to actually benefit from the training.
Here’s how to get started on successfully applying social learning to your existing eLearning programs:
1) Start a Facebook Group or Add a Forum to Your LMS
Facilitating discussion is key in any learning program. However, you don’t need a complicated or time-consuming solution. If your eLearning course includes written materials and videos in varying modules, you can create a Facebook group surrounding that course. Learners can ask questions and share their thoughts on the material.
The majority of workers already visit social media sites during the day to keep up with news or their friends’ activities. For course projects, encourage them to create infographics, eBooks or other digital products which they can share in the group and with others in the organization. A Facebook page can also permit peer-to-peer feedback. It allows course creators to monitor engagement levels.
Depending on which LMS you use, adding a discussion section is an option. You can use Google+ Hangouts and other tools create discussion boards. Set up different topics and encourage users to share their views. You can also ask them to post tips for applying what they learn to daily work activities:
Idea: To put humanity's natural social bent to work, encourage using social media after online events to explore a variety of perspectives on the topic. Link to videos and blog posts that provide valuable insight.
Incorporating social learning in this way ensures that learners never feel isolated. They learn not just from the course materials but from their co-workers as well.
Read more: The New Business Mantra: 'Always Learning'
2) Allow Learners to Share Progress on Social Networks
Reward systems should be incorporated into eLearning courses. As your employees move from one stage of the course to another or gain a certificate, they should be able to share it on social media. You can create attractive badges for each milestone or a graphic with the employee’s photo. You just need something that encourages sharing. Both co-workers and friends and relatives will like or reshare these posts. That means people outside the organization will learn about your training program. This can help to boost your public profile and attract customers and talent.
Read more: The Why’s and How’s of Social Learning in the Workplace (Top Pick of Great Reads)
3) Host Live Events to Encourage Real-Time Interaction
eLearning programs don't have to revolve solely around courses. In fact, that can get quite boring and it makes some people averse to online instruction. Although learners typically work at their own pace, they can benefit from regular live sessions. This helps to build a virtual community especially if workers don’t typically see each other in person.
The sessions can be focused around particular topics with occasional Ask Me Anything events. That way, those running the course aren’t always the only ones asking the questions. Instead, you open your organization up to feedback and open discussion.
4) Conduct Surveys and Polls
You need to know if users find your eLearning courses to be helpful and if there is anything they would change about them. This will help you to create relevant material, deliver it in the most effective way and get a satisfactory return on investment. Polls and surveys encourage learners to give you their honest opinions. You can create a survey on a specific course or even ask workers to suggest areas in which they would like to be trained. Simply asking learners to “like” the preferred option out of two or three choices can give you actionable information. Don’t underestimate the value of a simple poll.
5) Focus on Mentorship
eLearning is often linked to self-directed learning and mentorship is often seen as a face-to-face arrangement. However, there is a role for mentors in online learning. Mentors can be peers, managers or members of the learning and development team. They can help workers to tailor training to their individual goals and remain accountable throughout the course.
Mentors can help new online learners navigate the LMS and develop good learning habits. Incorporating mentor-mentee interactions within a secure LMS also means that organization-specific information does not get into the wrong hands. Mentors and mentees can interact at scheduled intervals via a video conferencing platform. However, email, instant messaging and message boards can also be used.
There are many ways to introduce mentorship into an LMS. Like other social learning elements, it ensures online learners benefit from interaction and collaboration.
A Few Things to Remember....
Now that you know the importance of social learning, you will want to incorporate at least a few elements into your program. However, you shouldn’t rush. You will need to have a strategy if you want to get the best results. One of the first things you should consider is how social learning will contribute to your overall organizational goals. This will help to keep all your social efforts on track. A Facebook group or discussion forum can easily get out of hand if there is no clear focus.
You should also consider keeping the discussion going after the formal course has been completed. It usually takes time to implement what one has learned and questions or observations are bound to arise.
Keep these thoughts in mind and do your research before you make changes to your current course offering.