Engaging workplaces have one particular trait that all companies should aspire too – employees come together in a community, where they can learn, grow and share their knowledge and experience.

This type of social learning has become one of the most efficient methods to drive employee development and foster engagement.

“We define learning as the transformative process of taking in information that, when internalized and mixed with what we have experienced, changes what we know and builds on what we can do. It’s based on input, process, and reflection. It is what changes us.”

Marcia Conner, The New Social Learning: A Guide to Transforming Organizations Through Social Media

Creating social learning spaces at work

Employee development and learning is usually associated with formal trainings that provide little or no room for interaction. Social learning is different. It’s about building conversations.

In a formal learning environment, employees are expected to demonstrate key behaviors and skills, whereas in a social learning environment, they can participate in conversations, combining knowledge with experience and dialogue.

You can create a social learning space in any number of ways – you can build an online learning space, a physical one, you can organize events, set up a mentorship program or make social learning an essential principle of your way of working.

The key is to bring people together and encourage conversation. You can structure your learning plan and guide the discussions towards certain topics that you’d like employees to focus on.

The majority of employee management systems have included a social feature to allow teams to design their own communication space. These virtual social environments can also provide a great learning opportunity, in a team context.

Social learning tools

Today’s employees, mostly millennials, prefer a collaborative work culture over a competitive one. Discussion boards, content sharing, micro-blogs, wikis, polls and forums are just some of the online learning tools that are being increasingly used in employee development.

Software Advice, a site that reviews LMS solutions, asked employees in a recent study which of these tools and channels they perceive as being most effective. Twenty-four percent of respondents said that discussion boards would be their preferred module, followed closely by content sharing (23 percent) and the ability to view or give ratings for courses and lessons (21 percent).

 Top LMS Social Learning Modules

Top LMS Social Learning Modules

Discussion boards have multiple benefits for learning in a classroom setting, so it follows that these would also apply to social learning. Benefits include increased participation, community-building and saving faculty members time answering questions—and these all translate to employees and managers in a corporate setting.

 “Say I work for a big company and I don’t necessarily know who has this expertise, I can ask this question into a broad community, and I might get connected back with the lady who works in the Tokyo office, who also happens to be working on the same kind of thing—


[which] I wouldn’t have been able to find otherwise.”

Charles Coy, senior director of analyst and community relations at Cornerstone OnDemand

The ability to rate courses and lessons, Coy adds, can present an opportunity for employees to provide valuable feedback on the content being offered, while also encouraging them to engage more broadly with the company’s LMS.

One of the main types of collaboration systems that more and more companies are using is the Enterprise Social Network (ESN), internal platforms designed to foster teamwork, communication and knowledge sharing among employees. Platforms like Yammer, Smartforce, Socialtext, Socialcast, Slack, HipChat and Jive.

Many of these networks were initially adopted by employees and subsequently adopted by the entire company as a result of its profound impact on employee engagement.

 “Social is not a feature. Social is not an application. Social is a deep human motivation that drives our behavior almost every second that we are awake.

The leading businesses are recognizing that the web is moving away from being centered around content, to being centered around people. That is the biggest social thunderstorm, and all of us are going to understand it to succeed. So stop talking about social as a distinct entity. Assume it is everything you do.”

Paul Adams in Stop talking about social

What’s your experience with social learning systems so far?

*Software Advice is a free online resource that helps organizations choose the right software. They connect software buyers with software vendors by offering free phone consultations where we shortlist products that meet their specific business needs.


Image credit: Ohio University Libraries under C.C.2.0