woman working on her computer independentlyImagine for a moment that your organization has invested the necessary time and funds into creating the most cutting-edge training program possible. You have an easy to use Learning Management System (LMS); enough developers to create custom eLearning content, instructor-led training (ILT), ad-hoc training solutions; and access to research and reports to stay ahead of the needs of your organization, bringing just-in-time training to life. However, no matter what technology and resources used in the training, it must come to life for participants. This is where the social learning component comes into play.

Working with other learners adds another layer of learning, practice, and retention. Collaboration has been a cornerstone of formal education – the traditional classroom setting involves group work, team projects, and pairing up. However, once we leave traditional classrooms and enter the workforce, the social aspect of training and development often disappears from the learning experience.

So, what can instructional designers do to add social learning to their training courses? First, both the organization and stakeholders must accept that social learning is not a benefit, but rather a requirement for a successful training program. To receive clients’ buy-in, instructional designers can share articles, blogs, and studies that reinforce the importance of social learning. Many organizations have a preconceived notion that the main benefit of eLearning is that it is available “anytime and anywhere.” While this is a real benefit for cost-savings, it is important for stakeholders to understand that watching a training alone in a vacuum is not a meaningful experience for a learner. By adding a social component to the training, eLearning professionals will close that gap, ensure retention and on-the – job transfer of the information.

illustration depicting a social networkAdding social learning to existing training doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive. If, for example, a training course consists of eLearning modules, videos, and documents, eLearning professionals can easily add a discussion board or create a Facebook page dedicated to that particular class. This will give learners the opportunity to ask questions and comment on the content. Another way to incorporate the social learning aspect with traditional eLearning materials is through using a blended learning approach. While live social interactivity is ideal, it may not work for all learners, especially if their time zones are different. When scheduling a session where all learners can meet is not an option, instructional designers may consider giving students access to a wiki or message board to post questions and share tips. Keep in mind though that message boards and wikis require a moderator who will actively monitor the discussion, and ensure that all questions and comments are addressed timely. In the most restrictive or tight-budgeted situation, a simple way to incorporate social learning is to begin email chains on a variety of topics the learner is trained on. Questions can be addressed by a wide audience with different backgrounds, lending experience and tips to everyone on the email chain.

As previously mentioned, it is not difficult to add a social learning component to any eLearning course; however, it may take time and resources to implement it, and most importantly, get leaderships’ buy-in.