What is social learning?

‘Social learning’ has been the elearning buzzword du jour for a couple of years now and people often ask us exactly what social learning is. I think Marcia Conner captures it perfectly in her definition as follows:

Social learning is learning that takes place through social interaction between peers and it may or may not lead to a change in attitudes and/or behavior. More specifically, to be considered social learning, a process must: (1) demonstrate that a change in understanding has taken place in the individuals involved; (2) demonstrate that this change goes beyond the individual and becomes situated within wider social units or communities of practice; and (3) occur through social interactions and processes between actors within a social network (Reed et al., 2010).

Researchers have defined social learning in multiple, overlapping ways and confused social learning with the conditions and methods necessary to facilitate social learning or its potential outcomes. It is important to distinguish social learning as a concept from the conditions or methods that may facilitate social learning and the potential outcomes of social learning processes.

If learning is to be considered “social learning,” then it must:

  • Demonstrate that a change in understanding has taken place in the individuals involved. This may be at a surface level (recalling new information) or deeper levels (change in attitudes, beliefs).
  • Go beyond the individual to become situated within wider social units or communities of practice within society.
  • Occur through social interactions and processes within a social network, either through direct interaction (conversation) or through other media (social media).

As such, social learning may be defined as a change in understanding that goes beyond the individual to become situated within wider social units or communities of practice through social interactions between actors within social networks. (Reed et al., 2010)

Social is integral to learning in the workforce today – and learning platforms need to be able to support formal and informal, personal and social learning. We will be looking at all of these approaches in coming posts so stay tuned!

References

Reed, M. S., A. C. Evely, G. Cundill, I. Fazey, J. Glass, A. Laing, J. Newig, B. Parrish, C. Prell, C. Raymond and L. C. Stringer. 2010. What is Social Learning?. Ecology and Society 15 (4): r1. [online] URL: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol15/iss4/resp1/

About the author: Roberta Gogos is a Social Media and Content Strategist who contributes to a number of blogs, focusing on social media, culture-specific communication, collaboration, elearning and social learning. She can be contacted on LinkedIn or Twitter.