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Social and Collaborative Learning in a Time of Remote Working

This article has been adapted from part of a recent ebook, ‘Preparing for the Future of Workplace Learning: 7 Challenges and Innovations for Changing Times’. The ebook reflects on the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent remote working have had on learning practices across culture, technology, measurement, and learning design.

In a year that saw the majority of us lack the human contact and connection we’re used to from our physical workplaces, opportunities for social learning became more important than ever.

Social Learning and Our Need for Connection

It’s not a coincidence that in the early days of the pandemic and international lockdowns, many engaged in Zoom quizzes, Skype calls, and downloaded apps like Houseparty. Connection with others is a hugely important part of our lives, and an important part of our learning.

Social learning has historically been hard to pull off. Despite this, in an online knowledge-sharing session we ran with senior L&D professionals during lockdown, most agreed that social and collaborative learning strategies were key to creating meaningful experiences in blended, virtual distance learning.

We believe this is true of learning design regardless of distance. The pandemic just showed us all how important it is.

RECOMMENDED READING | 5 Ways to Build Trust and Engagement in a Virtual Workshop

The Challenges of Social and Collaborative Learning

Social learning has been something of a priority goal for L&D teams for a long time, but few organizations achieve what they set out to with it. This can be down to systems, learning culture, or colleague dynamic. There are many reasons this strategy is a challenge for L&D.

However, over the course of the pandemic, we’ve seen a number of organizations really embrace social learning. While some organizations have the technology in place but continue to struggle with uptake, others have seen huge shifts in learning culture.

RELATED READING | 3 Ways Remote Working Has Changes Learning Culture Throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic

Netflix and YouTube Styles of Learning

During a knowledge-sharing session with senior L&D professionals, we had a discussion about different styles of learning. One organization, for example, was looking to shift from the curated playlists of Netflix-style learning to a bigger focus on User-Generated Content (UGC) in a YouTube-style model of learning.

We love this analogy, and you can find out more about the topic in this blog from our sister company PeopleFluent. It’s an incredibly exciting time for learning in this particular organization. In the first few months of the initiative, it saw considerable uptake with over 1,000 user-generated contributions uploaded to its system.

Social learning can be hard to achieve, but it’s potentially the most important game-changer of our time. If we can successfully implement social learning best practices while learning at a distance, it can mean big things for learning once we move to a post-pandemic world.

RELATED READING TO DOWNLOAD | Connected Learning: How to Harness the Power of Social, Data, and Networks

Learning in the Flow of Work

Social and collaborative learning are what we would also describe as learning in the flow of work, and interest in this area has maintained throughout the year. eLearning and event-based training have their place and are clearly critical for delivering a wide range of behavioral change in our learners. 

However, a strategic move from a formal learning paradigm to learning in the flow of work mirrors not only the way people need to learn but also meets their practical needs and drives continuous performance improvement by stealth.

Simple knowledge-sharing is so prominent in the workplace that the majority (55%) of employees surveyed in 2018 said they turn to their colleagues first to fill any knowledge gaps. This is before they go to the managers, the internet, or any learning system their organization has in place. 

Alongside the social and well-being benefits of encouraging collaboration in the workplace, the fact is that it already happens. So finding ways to integrate this into your learning design can be a fantastic way to boost learning engagement and information retention.

Key Takeaways

  • Social and collaborative learning can improve learning engagement.
  • People already learn from each other—designing specific opportunities for this only serves your learning strategy.
  • Getting social and collaborative learning design right can be challenging, but it presents great opportunities for the future of learning.

This article is based on an extract of our ebook “Preparing for the Future of Workplace Learning: 7 Challenges and Innovations”. Download your copy now, or get in touch to talk to one of our experts.

Andrew Joly, Director of Strategic Design

Andrew is the Director of Strategic Design for LEO. He joined the company in 2001 and has worked in the learning sector since 1989, when he was employed as a training film editor and producer. Having moved into the new area of multimedia in the 1990s, Andrew joined the BBC as a Commissioning Editor for learning games, and then spent time as a consultant at the branding agency Wolff Olins. Andrew now leads the consulting faculty at LEO, at the frontline of strategic learning design and learning innovation in practice.

Andrew focuses on his personal passion: how technology-enabled learning experiences and communication blends can transform behaviors and performance in the workplace. Andrew is always keen to explore how new modes and strategies for learning and connection can make a real difference to people, teams, and global organizations today.

Andrew holds a BSc in Biology from Manchester, a diploma in Systemic Coaching, and is a certified Lego Serious Play Facilitator. He’s a senior volunteer for a Peak District-based charity working towards sustaining the local ecology, habitats, and natural environments of pollinators. He also plays the mandolin and guitar. By his own admission, he has collected too many examples of both instruments.

Follow Andrew on LinkedIn.

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