Social Learning Principles That Engage The Learners
Training and learning professionals are unanimous in their support of technology-aided learning in the workplace. Allowing more flexibility and increasing access to learning, technology-aided learning is now being adopted by a majority of forward thinking organizations. With an increasing amount of budgets directed towards creating e-learning and building the platforms of delivery, it is now imperative that e-learning initiatives align to the needs of the entire learner group – including learners who are less than enthusiastic.
A learner group is made of different profile of learners who choose to learn in varied ways. A strictly linear structure, where an e-course is simply made available on the technology-aided learning platform is thus not suitable for all. It is now an established fact that a flexible training program with a variety of multiple learning pathways offers more learning opportunities and therefore decreased number of course drop-outs. Social learning can be a powerful way of engaging learners and providing continuous support to make sure that learners do not feel ‘isolated’ during the learning process. However, there are a few principles of social learning that must be followed when embarking on the learning endeavor to ensure its impact as well as success.
Just like social interactions cannot be coerced, social learning cannot be forced. To ensure the success of social learning, training managers have to put more trust in the hands of learners to guide their own learning. While trainers or instructors can take on the role of facilitators within a social learning group, they must allow as much self-organization as possible – all within the boundaries and restrictions of each learning project. For instance, at the beginning of the learning assignment, instead of assessing how much the learners know through written assignments, instructors can instead ask questions and lead the learners to pro-active dialogue. The learners can also be encouraged to choose their own partners or groups to work together on assignments.
The biggest hurdle for impactful and effective e-learning is that learners are often not motivated to access learning on the organizational LMS or complete an e-course to gain adequate knowledge. Social learning platforms can bring out the actual needs and requirements of the learners. Topics which are easier for some, may not be so for other learners. Similarly, some learners feel that some topics are just repetitive and they have done it all before. Social platforms bring these diverse learners together and provide them the space to learn as they want. It allows them to be in control of the learning and gives a sense of ownership. This is an essential ingredient for motivation and self-organized learning.
Social learning platforms also help learners become more confident about their views. The social platform provides a safe avenue to discuss ideas. Every contribution or comment is treated with respect. Peers and fellow learners ‘like’ them and this creates a sense of pride. On the whole, participating in a social forum builds relationships and fosters trust among learners who have self-esteem as far as learning is concerned.
Collaboration is at the heart of the success of any social learning platform. Learners perform better when there are ample opportunities to interact with other learners and take a greater interest in assignments when working with others. Trainers can support collaboration through group-based work and regular feedback. This makes social collaboration fruitful and the exchange of information becomes a source for action as well as reaction.
Learners are best motivated to learn when they are faced with challenging, but manageable assignments. On their part, trainers should ensure that learning assignments should align to the learning level of an individual learner or a group of learners. Trainers need not be the only ones that decide the topics to study. Learners themselves can bring out topics that they consider relevant to research or further, deeper study. The assignments that trainers suggest and what the learners themselves decide can come together to maintain relevance related to the learning goals set out at the beginning of the course.
All interactions do not have to be in the strict realm of relevance. There should be room for creativity as well in the social forum to kindle true honesty and the learner is able to develop an identity. Creativity may not take up the entire learning endeavor but creative activities like story-building or even role playing can help learners gauge their capabilities and interests, which is fundamental for maintaining motivation and discovering one’s talents.
Finally, to foster actual learning, the relevance of topics discussed in the social forum has to be maintained. This cannot be a strict, unrelenting line, demarcating what is relevant and what is not. There should be a balance between topics suggested by the trainer (more aligned to the pre-decided curriculum) and topics from the learners. A mix of both makes sure that learning is well-rounded and most importantly, the learners remain engaged.
The merits of Social learning are now being given the due credit that they deserve. In addition to an interactive platform of interaction, social forums are utilized for learning in the corporate space. Learners are more open to the prospect of learning along peers and are enthusiastic to lap up the opportunities for further personal growth. For trainers as well, it is an opportunity to understand the learners better and align learning to individual needs to get better results.
References and suggested further reading: Social Media to Foster Self-Organized Participatory Learning for Disengaged Learners by Pieter de Vries & Thieme Hennis of Delft University of Technology, Delft, Netherlands