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Support your learners 100% with social learning

Podcasts and Audio | 23.03.2017

The Kineo team is back and this time we're discussing social learning. Listen in as we discuss some of the bigger questions - what is social learning? What are the misconceptions around it? How can it fit within the workplace?  

Paul Westlake  

Welcome to Kineo stream of thought. My name is Paul Westlake. I'm a solutions consultant to Kineo. And today we're gonna be talking about social learning. I'm joined by

Nina Brebner  0:15  

Nina Brebner, account director,

James Cory-Wright  0:17  

James Cory-Wright head of learning design.

Jez Anderson  0:19  

And I'm Jez Anderson, head of consulting.

Paul Westlake  0:22  

So I guess the best place to start is the obvious question, what do we mean by social learning? Jez, you wanna pick that one up?

Jez Anderson  0:27  

Sure. social learning very much. It's something that we've been doing for millennia, really, since we've been able to communicate, we have been learning socially learning from each other. And for me, that is the key element to it. It's about how do we share knowledge? How do we acquire knowledge? How do we contribute to other people's knowledge, as part of a community or as part of society? I think the vehicle which will go on to talk about has become technology. But ultimately, that's that's only all that that's all it is, is just a vehicle.

Paul Westlake  0:59  

So I think when we talk about social people think about social media as potentially something they do outside to do that at home, or they got Twitter accounts, and Facebook accounts and all that good stuff. So how do we see social fitting in, in the workplace?

Nina Brebner  1:12  

I think from my perspective, social learning already exists in the workplace and I think as Jez was saying we really shouldn't lose sight of that people still turn to the person to their left and right and ask questions, we still build up a network of confidence during our time within organisations or as part of our, our careers, and we still lean on those, and those are in effect, social learning, it's just that they are less engineered in the way that they function and aren't necessarily sitting under a form of formal heading of social learning.

Paul Westlake  1:43  

And is that part of the problem do you think with them or the misunderstanding of social needs that we're trying to pigeonhole some something that has been going along all along, and we will be doing to suddenly it needs to tag it, it needs to be put in a specific place,

Nina Brebner  1:57  

I think it's a bit of both, I think there's an element of are we trying to make a bigger deal out of something that already naturally happens within organisations, I think we also have to be realistic about the nature of which organisations are developing, we've become much more globalised, and not necessarily where we would have existed in one country very independently from another one, We now cross over countries in the way that we share in the way that we work together skills, services, all of those kind of things. And social learning needs to be able to service that change in organisations, people are much more remote in the way that they work now. And, and for that social learning starts to feed into to the nature of which people are less around a table than perhaps they were 5, 10 or more years ago.

Paul Westlake  2:41  

So what you're saying is it's a less formal way of communicating then

Nina Brebner  2:45  

yes, I think it's absolutely a less formal way of comunicating. I think there are formal components to it. And maybe we'll, we'll talk about that a little bit more later, when we talk about using the nature of programs to drive social learning. But I think in our day to day, activities inside the workplace, it's very much an informal thing that already takes place. And what we perhaps now need to look at is how we enable that to scale up more than it does perhaps at the moment, and, and also crosses into the area that we categorise more as knowledge management, as opposed to social learning, which is how is all of that knowledge retained inside businesses? And that social learning becomes a mechanism to enable that.

James Cory-Wright  3:24  

Yeah and Nina, I think you mentioned knowledge management, I think that sort of touches on one of the problems with social learning, I think is around the actual, perhaps the use of the word learning. We it's more about sharing, problem solving, communicating, being social, and that people sort of get benefits from that. But whether that's actually learning or more sort of, like a resource, will knowledge management, it's not quite the same thing, I think. And I think that's what partly creates problems with it

Nina Brebner  3:54  

Its an age old argument in some ways, isn't it that continues to go on? Where does learning, learning stop and start? And when is something just a matter of knowledge? Or do we just argue the fact that actually all of that is learning in its own right, because we don't know something and somebody is teaching it to us in whatever form that comes in.

James Cory-Wright  4:11  

As soon as we say, social learning and put that tab on it we're kind of formalising it in some way. Whereas actually, what we're really talking about is something that's very informal.

Paul Westlake  4:22  

Yeah, that's a strange one, isn't it? Because if we talk about formal learning, if I pick up on your phrase there formal learning, and now 70 20 10 split, formal learning is that 10% piece is that you know, it's the classroom piece. It's, you know, that that formal piece, but social, I'm guessing should really fit into the 70s. And you're learning from others. No, that's the 20. With I have where does that where does that fit into it?

Jez Anderson  4:45  

You know, it's a really interesting point when when we wrote the paper, one of the things that I played around in my head was where does where does it fit? If you listen to Charles Jennings, he very clearly puts it in the 20. He says it learning from others. It's the collaborative part of the equation. I personally in my base of my experience, say it's 100. And social is the byproduct of a learning process. If you're in a traditional classroom setting, you learn as much from the colleagues over lunch as you do from the person leading it, then that's the social interaction. If you're working with somebody, in a coaching relationship, you're learning socially from them, you're having that social conversation. But it's not, you know, it's not just governed or bound by that. And equally, you're learning in the workplace, you when you're sat with your colleagues at desks, you don't you're learning, you're sharing information via the internet. So you were sharing information on the phone, or, as Nina said, At the start, just because I sat next to you to try and categorise it, and to stick it into into one box is really missing the point, I think,

Nina Brebner  5:48  

I mean, that's really interesting. If you go back to your question about what are people doing in the workplace at the moment, one of the things we are seeing his people using formal programs as a mechanism to launch social learning, which means that that social learning actually very, very rigidly sits at that moment in time inside the 10%. Because what people are saying is what I want you to do a piece of elearning. And then the call to action of the piece of this elearning is that I want you to download this, take a picture of yourself doing it. And then I want you to recommend how we can make a good change towards this particular process or subject, and then generating social activity around that subject. But actually, it was born out of somebody saying, you have to do this,

Paul Westlake  6:31  

as well, don't we see it on a program on an LMS, which is, you know, here's an intro video, now do a piece of elearning. Once you've completed that maybe we'll open up a forum where you can discuss it, you wouldn't have got that to that point if it wasn't a formalised program. So in a way, you're sort of, yeah, formalise it. But then the other side to that, you're not actually forcing people to interact socially, there are you you're opening up, you're giving them the tools, but whether they do or not pretty much up to them.

Jez Anderson  6:55  

But I think I think the key is, is recognition, whenever we're doing any learning design, be it learning design, from a technology point of view, or learning design, generally from like a classroom or curricular point of view, is that we are social animals, and that we do communicate, and we do share, and we chat, and we share experiences, we share stories, we problem solve together. And ultimately, that's what learning is all about. The reality of it is, is trying to contain it and put it into one, you know, this is all about technology, or it's all about a learning program. You know what it that's just the vehicle. And I think what we should be doing is recognising the you can use social learning, you can use informal learning as part of that process, because it is happening. And we can help people structure people's conversations around topics that we're interested in. Do you

Nina Brebner  7:44  

Do you not think that there's a natural barrier to that, in that when we talk about how we naturally interact on a social level. So we, as I mentioned, data about having a network of confidence that we tend to when we seek advice, isn't one of the barriers around social learning is that you're asking people to step out of a zone that is built around confidence, where we we choose to speak to particular individuals, because we trust that we can expose our our lack of knowledge or weakness to those individuals. And now what we're asking those people to do is to bear it to everybody. And actually, that some of the barrier is how do we encourage people to feel that this is still a safe place for them to ask questions, and to expose weaknesses in knowledge? We're actually on some parts of may people may expect that they should know, know the answers to it. And and I think one of the things we need to be looking at as part of that social experience is, what does that look like? How do we stop it feeling like it's hierarchal that there's any kind of downward viewing of what's going on in the site? And how do we encourage people to talk in the same way as they would amongst those that they felt most confident with? And that's quite a big human transition that we're asking for now, only a small population of people are naturally extrovert in wanting to expose their knowledge. And that's a very small population of an organisation.

James Cory-Wright  9:08  

So perhaps a better or warmer, safer term phrase Community Learning.

Jez Anderson  9:13  

Yeah, which takes you back to the other academic aspect of this is communities of practice. And realistically, a community practice is just exactly what you just described is people who have share some common knowledge either through their work that they do, and that they, you know, their colleagues do the same sort of job, or through their location or through their social activity, and then they will trust each other. And Julian starts just started to do some interesting work around trust and doing some investigation into what makes individuals trust organsations and vice versa. Because without trust, the reality around social learning becomes there's a big question mark over it and therefore how do you create communities of trust within organisations. Ultimately, people will communicate Socially, they will build a network, they will have people who they get on with better than other people who they want to share with. The reality of it is is can organisations create that where that doesn't exist? I don't know. I'm not sure they can. And I think it has to be managed very carefully and subtly  to help develop an agenda, that culture,

Paul Westlake  10:20  

the trust, when if I could pick up an item that the trust was quite key to all of this and that someone feels or whatever level they are in a business. They feel it's okay for them to put forward their opinion and to have their say and to answer the question. That's one side of it. The other and I'd say the flip side of that is, if we would think about using this in l&d, and where our compliance, for example, people are going to suggest things are potentially wrong or not a procedure or another way of doing it. So how do you maintain that trust, whilst at the same time policing it and saying, Well, actually, no, that's not the right answer.

James Cory-Wright  10:53  

Yes, it's a two way street as well, because there is trust between the people in the community but also across the organisation, the business has to intern trust its people. 

Paul Westlake  11:03  


Nina Brebner  11:04  

Well, I think trust is a really valid point. However, it's not necessarily just about trust, it's about our sense of understanding and competency. It is possible for human beings, we all do it, to make what we believe to be a sound recommendation. And, and actually, that's not about mistrusting that person. It's the fact that they are operating in their own belief, and the fact that they could actually be making recommendations, which aren't actually the best thing to be doing or in line to what health and safety or compliance would be recommend. 

Paul Westlake 11:35

But then if I could pick up on that, I'd say that in some ways, that's probably one of the real strengths of having a social network, everyone feels confident to have their say, because you actually find out what people actually really think. And then you be put in a position where you can action that you could pick up and say, Actually, no, this is what the procedure actually is. And this is why, because I would argue that, you know, without that, people having those conversations anyway, they're just doing it, you know, having those conversations, as you said before, with their friend in the office, or wherever it may be. So at least in that way, you've almost got it formalised and gives you the gives l&d the opportunity to set the record straight.

Nina Brebner  12:05

Is that possible on a global scale? Is there a point where this becomes unmanageable?

Paul Westlake  12:16  

Well, I don't know. If you, if you think about the way if I need to find out how to do something now I'll either possibly look on, let's say, I have a look online, Id go ask someone who I think knows. And I'll ask the question. And if I know someone's particularly strong in a certain area, I'll go directly to that person, I'm not sure. I probably will put a bit of a call out and say, has anybody got experience in doing x? I guess by using that social element there, I've opened up the opportunity for so many more people to come back to me and give me the answer. Whereas in the past, I think we would very much pigeon holed people, to a certain extent based on the job role. They've got to say, right, that must be the right answer, because that's what that person thinks. If I asked that question, and that person who we've always asked before gives me one answer, and 15 other people give me another one. So maybe that's questioning whether they're actually right in the first place.

Jez Anderson  13:09  

I think it's interesting that one of the things I played around in my head is that it's around quality as much as it is about trust. And there's this need for organisations to maintain quality and understand that people are interacting with information that meets their standards meets the standards that they as an organisation need to work towards, for whatever reason, when you talk about social learning, it's talking about actually removing some of the controls of that. So it becomes less parental, it becomes less instructional, it becomes much more freer society of information exchange. And if you were to go down a completely social route, where you just wanted people to learn by sharing, that whole aspect of quality and quality control, starts to erode, essentially, to Nina's point is that we all have beliefs about what's right and what's wrong. And soon things become apocryphal. And we start to challenge what is actually fact. And it's it becomes something that's not because it's not controlled, that you do lose, you lose control of the information.

James Cory-Wright  14:19  

There is another problem as well. I think it's that the TripAdvisor issue is that if you believed everything you read on TripAdvisor, then everywhere you want to kind of stay smells or drains. And you know, I only certain people tend to go social as well, so that you've actually sort of lost quite a large proportion of the population who aren't bothering or don't wish to communicate in that way.

Paul Westlake  14:44  

So I think you identified there theres some concerns I suggest, which could therefore be seen as barriers to l&d about why do we get involved with this stuff? And, you know, is it ready yet?

Jez Anderson  14:55  

I think there's risks. I think there's risk. 

Paul Westlake  14:57  

Identify some of those, what do you what do you think of the barriers that stop people Going down that this route? 

Jez Anderson  15:01  

Well, I think the reality for me is that the moment you try to own something as an organisation, and you try to own social and you try and enforce it upon people, and the culture doesn't exist and the set of behaviors doesn't exist, you end up in that classic thing where maybe it's because people have been told to do it that they don't do it. Maybe it's because actually, you've only got 20% of the population, who actually are socially engaged. The rest of lurkers, and would like to lurk around that information and just access it when they want to, but not contribute to that. So the reality is, actually, you've got to create the right conditions, the right environment, recognise that, that people don't operate in a global sense, necessarily, they operate within small communities of practice, which work for them. So it's actually what we're trying to do is create those social connections versus the social platform, you're trying to enable and empower people to seek out information which is relevant for them when they need it. Because really, that's what social should be about. It's about problem solving. It's about decision making. It's about how do i do my job better quicker?

James Cory-Wright  16:06  

Or is it an ecosystem of sort of smaller social communities?

Jez Anderson  16:11  

I think so I think it's less about maybe trying to own and create a big social infrastructure. I think it's about providing people with the tools, but recognising that, you know, there's going to be cultural differences, especially in global businesses around how people communicate what they do, when they do it, where they do it, the need to be factored into it, as much as it is about empowering, enabling and letting people do what they need to do. I think the other issue is the whole thing around trust, quality control. And, again, the more that you trust people, and you trust that they will self police, and that as a community, if the community is well established, actually, they will self police, and they will put people right, and they will give, you know, share what they know. The nature and the basis of Community of Practice thinking it is it implies that at some point there is somebody who is a master within that community or people who are masters within that community. And the process is a journey of education, learning from being on the outside of that community journey towards mastership, in the center of that community. And it's only through that process of sharing, contributing, challenging that you become that master.

Paul Westlake  17:26  

What can we do to facilitate? Or how can we make social successful as people that maybe dip their toes that no one's doing and walked away? Is that about the l&d team asking questions that, you know, almost encouraging people to ask, answer and feel safe to be able to answer things,

Nina Brebner  17:44  

I think it's probably a mixture of things. And I think in particular, people have to see value. And they need to understand what the value of this new new process is, if we look at one of the programs that, you know, we recently did for a customer, there was some real value in people socially engaging, because people's, what they were talking about as being sort of always measured as a form of innovation. So people would make recommendations by social networks, and those were being pulled out of the social forums, and then being recognised as possible business improvements, or as innovation or incentives, or whatever that might be. And those were then actually being driven down back into the business as as new ways of working on new, new incentives. And because people could see change taking place, suddenly, there was like it, I've got to get on board with this, I need to do more of this, because actually, I am being heard. And there is value in what I'm saying. And it is being implemented in in some form or another. So I think there's an element of why do people need it? What's the benefit in it for them? What's the benefit in it for the business? And then you've got to think about what goes on. And around that I don't think that you can just stick technology out there and go great, be social,

Paul Westlake  18:50 

 I think that's an absolutely key point. If I can pick up on what you're saying there. It isn't something you buy off the shelf, you don't go and buy a piece of software called social learning version 1.0. You're talking about cultural change in that business idea.

Nina Brebner  19:15  

Yeah. And I think you also need to be make sure that you've got the right culture in the first place as well and whether your culture is ready for it. And if it's not, what are the steps that it needs to go through to get there and there are particular audiences where social learning is always going to either be impossible, or immensely challenging. You're going to have frontline workers who are working on rail tracks or are out on oil rigs or whatever. And social learning is not going to be a fundamental part of their day to day existence because they are hard laboring individuals who are not sat in front of a PC and so social learning formulates back into its more human state rather than its online knowledge capturing state

Jez Anderson  19:56  

And I think thsts an absolutely key point is that this for me started looking at the role of learning and development and how that is changing and needs to change to reflect how we as a society are changing. And around our use one that our use of technology and the fact that actually, majority of people use technology day to day, without thinking about it, you know, everybody's on phones or whatever. And we're using it all the time. And we're sharing all the time, you don't need to own and control it. So in some ways, it comes down to the learning and development needs of curation, and how they curate information, which isn't just about pinpointing and highlighting information, it's about actually using what's out there. So be socially driven, or be it from a site like Anders pink, or be it just from Google, but helping people cut out some of the noise. Yeah, around that knowledge and information, and help them make sense of what's in front of them. Because there's so much

James Cory-Wright  20:53  

I would go further than that. Maybe you don't provide anything, you in an organisation use it solely as a sort of problem solving. thing. That's how I would,

Paul Westlake  21:05  

Its like a forum. So you can ask me about you know, 

James Cory-Wright  21:08  

Yeah, yeah. So it's completely driven by basically the people who are participating in it. We're using it when they need it, and for what they do when they need help. And then, and then if you can demonstrate that that works. And you can also show the problems  of the past, as well as problems of the present, then I think that you start to sort of that people can see a purpose or point, or having off going social,

Nina Brebner  21:32  

we do actually have a customer who uses it very much in that in that capacity. They they've got, you know, in an online sense, they have a social site that sits across their learning management systems. They're positioned in four countries across the globe. But those countries are varying levels in terms of sort of engineering capability. They do exactly that. It's an opportunity for an engineer in the UK, to flag a question that someone in Asia may well answer whilst they're asleep. And they wake up in the morning. And that answer is there for them. 

James Cory-Wright  22:04  

I think that's how it could start. And then it could grow. So you can start by saying this is a problem solving tool. And then of course, it could grow because people start to get trust in it, see a value in it, tell other people about it. And then you can start to curate around the central problem solving activity.

Jez Anderson  22:20  

But I think there's a recognition that it will work for some people, if on a technological platform, and it won't work for others, you know, so I think your example Nina of the railway workers is a classic, because they will probably spend their time the guys out in the track fixing rails, when they finish the shift or whatever. And they go back to the cabin and then sit having a cup of tea, they'll be talking about the work problems. They've been talking about what they've just done that morning and the problem they had overcoming it. And that is part of that. That is social learning. And it's almost it's rawest sense, in terms of the delivery mechanism. We're now in a technological age where things are driven by the platforms in which we all operate on. And I think what we're trying to do, and this is what were the complication is we're trying to own that and almost own that too much and grab hold of it as a this is a really great thing, which it is and we're trying to as as learning and development communities are trying to maybe just hold it a little bit too tightly where it needs to just be released and allow it to happen organically.

Paul Westlake  23:29  

If you'd like to find out more about social learning and how it works in the workplace, you can download this guide from If you want to continue the conversation, pick up with us on Twitter @Kineo

Your speakers are

James has over 25 years' experience of instructional design and video scriptwriting. He previously headed up our team of learning designers and consultants, overseeing learning content design across all client projects.
Jes was Head of Consulting at Kineo until 2020.
With over 10 years’ experience in the education and L&D sectors, Nina is responsible for working with a range of global clients to understand their needs, and interpret these needs into viable solutions. Nina is passionate about her customer relationships and ensuring they receive not only a solution that is fit for purpose but also a high quality service.
Paul was previously a Solutions Consultant at Kineo.