Incorporating Social Learning into Your Online Courses

Humans are and have always been social creatures. The same is true when it comes to learning. Humans have been learning socially for thousands of years, and there’s no reason not to adopt this theory into your e-learning strategies.

Social learning is learning with and from others. This kind of learning can occur through direct as well as indirect contact. Direct contact refers to face-to-face interactions and indirect contact refers to interactions on social media. It is underpinned by the idea that learning is a cognitive behaviour and process that occurs in social settings. The idea behind social learning theory is that people learn by observing others.

The theory was pioneered by Albert Bandura, who stated that people learn better if they do it together.

The 70:20:10 model of learning is used by training professionals to describe which sources of learning are optimal. It believes that 70% of what we learn comes from observing others, 20% comes from interacting with others, and only 10% is derived from traditional learning methods. It shows that social learning is the natural way to learn.

In standard learning, students remember about 5% of what they hear from the educator and about 10% of what they read in the educational material. With an active discussion of the material with other students, about 50% of this material is assimilated. This is one of the main reasons why the e-learning process should be developed based on social learning principles.

Learners cover more material much faster when they study together. By introducing active discussions, having learners check each other’s assignments, and introducing gamification elements to the learning process, you can prevent knowledge gaps. If learners don’t know something, they can always turn to other learners for help, and the material will then be presented in an accessible form that will be quickly and easily absorbed.

Social learning can be incorporated in e-learning in the following ways:

Allow learners to express themselves: Learners like to be heard and interact with their classmates. This is easy to do in a classroom setting but becomes a bit trickier when learning is taking place online. Face-to-face interaction can still be facilitated, however, through technology such as Teams, Zoom, etc, for video conferencing. Interactions can also be indirect by setting up forums and discussion boards on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

Group discussions: These are a great way to engage learners and put direct interaction front and centre. Discussions can be general or specialised. In a live virtual classroom environment, it’s easy to divide learners into groups and delegate topics. The learners can use in-built tools like video, audio, whiteboard, and so on to be heard.

Introduce competition: People enjoy a bit of healthy competition with their peers. This can be used build social interactions in e-learning by building game elements into content. Introduce a points-based system around assessments or create a weekly leader board that acknowledges top learners. Competition will keep learners invested and engaged.

Question and answer sessions: Q&A sessions are interactive and thus a good way to engage learners. Use a learning management system (LMS) or authoring platform that has an option to facilitate this.  Allow your online learners to pose questions to subject matter experts. Gather the most pertinent questions and answers and post them in an FAQ format.

Collaborative document editing: Learners work in collaboration to refine and improve a single project or a document. This pattern of interaction and working on the same online document is also knows as a wiki. The LMS in use should have tools to control the version of the submission and updating work in a timely manner. This is one of the most popular methods of teamwork in a social learning environment.

Panels and symposiums: Have your subject matter experts talk to learners live in a panel discussion. Leave time at the end of the talk to allow for questions.

Follow these best practices to ensure the successful use of social learning in your e-learning course.

Encourage participation: Start by finding a focus. Define a topic and duration to give participants a structure and an obvious starting point. Think about starting your blogs, wikis, etc. on common support issues or Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). Set up an online meeting place and provide an agenda to get content started.

Provide the right tools: In an e-learning context, learners need tools that allow them to connect with one another when navigating socially and collaboratively through e-learning courses and online training. Use an LMS that allows learners to watch and discuss video tutorials and demos so they can ask questions and give feedback in real time, creating a truly collaborative social learning environment.

Open the lines of communication: It’s important to encourage your learners to share their knowledge and experience. Instant messaging has many benefits, including delivering instant results and eliminating the pressure of a formal email. For many companies and institutions, it makes sense to create a private and secure social learning environment that promotes conversation and connection between learners. Use internal communication systems such as Yammer, Slack or Teams to foster a learning community.

Once the right tools and structures are in place, social learning helps learners better communicate and collaborate with each other and retain critical information. By integrating social learning into your e-learning you will increase interactivity and collaboration among your learners, not to mention that the overall learning experience will become more engaging and informative

Written by Rob Ewart



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