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Social Learning Vs Informal Learning: Can You Tell The Difference?

Learning can happen anytime, anywhere, with those around us serving as invaluable sources of inspiration, experience, and knowledge. In many respects, the world is our teacher, but we must be aware of how to tap into the educational opportunities it can offer. Both social and informal learning models are rooted in this ideology. In this article, I’ll delve into the differences between Social Learning and Informal Learning, and share tips on how to use both in eLearning.
Social Learning Vs Informal Learning: Can You Tell The Difference?

Social Learning Vs Informal Learning: 3 Plus 3 Useful Tips Towards An Effective Learning Strategy For Each

Social learning is a cognitive process that encourages the learner to expand their knowledge base and master a specific task or skill through observation and instruction. This takes place in a social environment, wherein learners can carefully examine and evaluate the actions of others. A behavior or idea is typically modeled for the learner, and then they are asked to imitate or perform this behavior on their own. Vicarious reinforcement may also be involved, which allows the learner to expand their comprehension by monitoring the consequences or rewards of another person’s actions. For example, if someone else is reprimanded for exhibiting a certain learning behavior, they will then avoid that behavior.

Informal learning, on the other hand, is a more impromptu form of education. It is usually unscheduled and happens “on the fly”. For the most part, learners gain knowledge and develop their skills by participating in online discussions and presentations that center on their personal interests and activities. It’s often helpful to look at informal learning as an unforeseen side effect of carrying out normal everyday activities. For example, if you learn more about a particular topic by reading an article posted on Facebook by a friend, this would be an example of informal learning. You didn’t logon to the site expecting to educate yourself; it just happened! However, as you’ll discover in the tips section below, the informal learning process can still be integrated into the design of eLearning experiences.

3 Tips For Designing An Effective Social Learning Strategy

  1. Both show and tell.
    Social learning is all about learning by watching, then doing. To take care of the “watching” aspect, live modeling and verbal instruction, are key to the eLearning experience. Show your learners how to perform a task or process by walking them through each step, and allowing them to observe and retain the information they need to do it on their own. You should also include verbal instruction, such as communicating the mental processes that you go through when solving a problem. You can do this in the form of a tutorial, live presentation, or even an eLearning scenario that provides immediate feedback in case they take the wrong branching path .
  2. Grab and hold their attention.
    Social learning relies on having the full attention of the learner. If they are distracted, then they simply won’t be able to effectively observe the behavior or retain the key bits of knowledge they need in the real world. This means that you will have to make the eLearning content compelling, emotionally centered, and relatable in order to hold their attention. Tie it into real world objectives or goals, so they are aware of the fact that what you are teaching is going to benefit them once they step away from the eLearning environment.
  3. Practice makes perfect.
    Practice makes perfect, as they say, and this is also true for social learning. Once the learner observes the desired behavior or in-depth process, they are then asked to perform it on their own or in group. Simulations are ideal tools for this application, as they give learners the opportunity to carry out the task on their own, without any risk involved. Before they step into the real world, they can be sure that they know every detail and all of the steps that are required.

3 Tips For Designing An Effective Informal Learning Strategy

  1. Offer “moment of need” resources.
    One of the most significant benefits of an informal learning strategy is being able to help learners when and where they need it the most. If they are on the sales floor and need to know how to carry out a transaction, they need access to resources which can help them every step of the way. Ensure that you have prepared learning materials and activities they can use to expand their understanding and develop their skills whenever they feel the need. Also, make it mobile-friendly so that they don’t have to wait until they get home to access the resources on their laptops or PCs.
  2. Build an online learning community.
    Informal learning relies heavily on a learning mindset. If your learners are aware of how much spontaneous learning can benefit their lives, they are more likely to seek out and participate in these “unscheduled” educational activities. Give your learners a list of resources, such as articles and blogs, they can use to access information anytime, anywhere. Encourage them to engage in online forums and social networking sites where they can take control of their own learning experience.
  3. Create blog-based online activities.
    Encourage learners to start a blog and post recaps of the online lesson or interesting ideas that they have about related topics. Give them complete creative freedom to customize the blog as they like. You might even ask them to start an online portfolio of their best work, so that they are able to use it as a reference, get peer-based  feedback, and possibly show it to future employers if applicable. Have them post links to articles and eLearning videos they found informative, or develop their own resource list that may eventually help others to broaden their understanding.

For a truly memorable and engaging eLearning experience, consider using both models in your instructional design strategy. This gives learners the opportunity to expand their knowledge base and skill sets beyond the borders of the virtual classroom, so that they can become lifelong learners who seize every chance to improve their personal and professional lives.

Want to know how you can use social media sites to develop interactive and collaborative eLearning experiences? Read the article 12 Golden Social Media Rules For eLearning Professionals to discover how Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks can be used in social learning environments.

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