What is Social Learning?

by Sheela Hobden, Consulting Manager, CLS Performance Solutions

What are we really saying Social Learning is?

We all learn in different ways, from different sources and a good chunk of our learning comes from others, often quite simply from working together.  All of the following are social learning: in its basic form, a “kitchen convo” – you learn so much when you chat at the watercooler, whilst making coffee or even over lunch.  Action learning, communities of practice, that peer-to-peer dialogue within classroom training, and even more so in the break times.  It would seem that the technology powering social media now affords us an updated view and enables faster and wider reach.  It wouldn’t be right to start without a couple of definitions, so here are a couple of my favourites:

 “Social learning is a synthesis of the social media environment, transforming the potential of collaborative knowledge spaces into environments of interactive learning and sharing” (1).

Dan Pontefract defines it as “ exchange of ideas, knowledge or information typically characterised by friendly interaction through online services that provides supplemental understanding often via personal & professional networks” (2).

And Jane Hart (3) believes “I use the term social collaboration (which already exists in the business world) to describe the sub-set of social learning that is focused around the learning that takes place from working together, and where the emphasis is on achieving business objectives, and measuring its success in business or performance terms”.  Jane also splits social learning into directed, guided and independent, demonstrating the differing levels of support and formality involved.


Cheating or Learning?
Recent observation of a mandatory compliance training programme raised a question.  It appeared to be a memory game to pass the “test”, once passed individuals were deemed competent to operate within guidelines and could be “signed off” as such.  Witnessing a group gathered around a computer trying to “cheat” through discussing the correct answers before entering their own, sparked a thought.  Whilst they think they are cheating, they are actually learning from each other socially.  Whilst that particular eLearning programme was probably not designed that way, this event is a social learning by-product!


Has the term just increased in popularity because of the technology available? Do we have to use technology?  Or, should it actually be called Techno-Social Learning – because it’s inferred that Social Learning uses one of the Social Media tools, yet we have learnt socially for many years.

What is so interesting about it now anyway?

It’s gained popularity as the technologies have emerged that expedite the transfer and reach of those social learning opportunities. Findings from the Annual CIPD L&D survey support this, with 29% of L&D professionals believing that it will grow over the next year.

We really value the 70/20/10 approach.  Going on a course is all well and good, but what you do with it afterwards is the real benefit.  Despite frequent lack of understanding of reasoning, good management practice is to review course content and learnings with your manager afterwards.  There are real “light bulb” moments where employees have been on a course, and it’s only when they were explaining to their manager what the content was, and the manager offering in their own experience, the realisations about what they had actually learnt appeared, as well as how they could put this into practice for personal and business benefit.  Without that social interaction, the learning could have been lost.  My favourite quote is “I always realise I’ve learnt more than I thought when I have conversations with you”.

Using Social technologies, there is now the opportunity to review not only with your manager, but with other course delegates.  People can be connected regardless of their geographical or organisational location, so the possibilities for knowledge exchange and learning area are greatly enhanced.

Why are CLS so interested in Social Learning?

We are firm believers in the blended learning approach.  Our core is ERP system training, to use new systems:, our foundation is the 10%, then embedding elements to provide the 20% learning from others, as well as putting support mechanisms in place so that for the 70% of time they spend learning on the job, they can access material to support that continued learning. Complementing this with social elements means our blended programmes are designed with teams supporting each other along the way.  We can work with organisations to provide guidance in setting up the right approach for their organisation and the culture in which they operate.

We’ve just touched the surface here with what Social Learning actually is, so watch this space for our next article where we dig deeper into “Overcoming barriers to Social Learning implementation”.



  1. HCM Advisory Group.  “2013 State of The Industry Study: A pulse on social learning”.  Chicago. HCM Advisory Group
  2. Dan Pontefract blog accessed 05/08/15 at
  3. Jane Hart blog accessed 07/08/15 at

Social learningcollaboration70:20:10HCM Advisory GroupDan PontefractJane Hart


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