The Value of Social versus Structural Learning
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The Value of Social versus Structural Learning


The Value of Social versus Structural Learning

March 21, 2017 Olivier Pestel
Digital technology is enabling companies to train employees in a wealth of smart, interactive and challenging ways. New forms of social learning use collaboration as the basis for employee education.

It’s all about giving your staff the motivation and tools needed to work together on a variety of innovative projects. This leverages creative thinking, pooling of ideas and exchange of information to achieve your business outcomes.

Sound radical? Not really. It’s no different than the learning we use throughout our lives, basing our behaviour on what we observe in our family and peer groups.

What’s different in 2017 is the phenomenal amount of digital applications available to business, transcending countries and time zones. This availability allows companies to take the best social learning practices and channel them into workplace software, collaboration tools and digital platforms.

Structural learning theory
Traditional workplace training programs rely on structural learning, generally delivered in a classroom or seminar setting using presentations, documents, slides, books and videos.

Set tasks, assignments and exams are used to assess whether the worker has retained the necessary information.

According to Instructional Design, this kind of learning is based on the structural learning theory credited to Joseph Scandura. It claims that learning is based on rules consisting of a domain, range and procedure.

Under the 70:20:10 rule, structural learning represents 10% of workplace learning with 70% informal, on-the-job experiences and 20% socially based learning.

And while employees often find it dull, it remains the bedrock of compliance education including occupational health and safety, along with legislation and regulations relating to the workplace.

Social learning theory
According to Simply Psychology, Albert Bandura’s social learning theory built on the accepted classical and operant conditioning theories to include two new concepts: observational learning, and the thought or ‘mediating’ process involved in acquiring it.

In terms of your employees, this means the creation of material which is sufficiently engaging and challenging to stimulate creative thoughts, which lead to real retention and problem-solving.

It’s our thought processes which make the difference between blindly copying behaviour, and using the behaviour we observe to help us learn and interact more effectively.

Social collaboration through social learning
While social learning is not structured, it can be formally presented in recognisable programs and formats for e-learning.

Social learning, a behavioural practice, should also be distinguished from social media, which merely provides the platform and tools necessary to facilitate social learning.

No social learning occurs when an individual scans their Facebook and Twitter feed, for instance.

Genuine social learning happens when these social media platforms and associated tools are used for sharing and engagement around a specific topic, purpose or exercise.  In this example, the exchange of vital ideas and meaningful information via the social platform and associated tools brings employees together and promotes innovative work practices.

The tools themselves were not initially designed for the purpose of bringing value to learning. Nonetheless, due to the incredible rate of peoples’ adoption of these, Instructional Strategists and Designers looked how we could use them to bring learning to life…and the results have been very positive.

Effective social learning programs must be:
  • Intuitive
  • Responsive
  • Immersive
  • Interactive
  • Challenging

Social learning tells a story
It helps to look at social learning in terms of telling a story.

As a learner, which would you rather do? Read a book crammed with facts, or engage with interactive visual and audio learning tools which link you up with:
  • Unlimited web resources
  • Like-minded colleagues and peers
  • Trainers in offices around the world
  • The latest TED talks
  • Customer feedback
  • Virtual experiences and role play simulations?

We learn through immersing ourselves in the stories of people’s lives, psyches, behaviours, successes, failures, aspirations and transformations, all told in new, collaborative ways.

Workplaces may always need to access the classrooms and libraries of old, but we’re seeing that it appears to be much less than 10% of the time for effective learning.

Never underestimate the power of sitting around the digital campfire and sharing a yarn.

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