Why Social Learning Networks Actually Work- Thoughts from A Former Skeptic
I was skeptical, too.
One of my first tasks as the new junior project manager at Your Instructional Designer was to map out a new project that required us to design and implement a social learning network (SLN) for a client that was looking to develop a scalable onboarding experience for its employees.
While I was creating a Gantt chart for all the tasks and milestones that needed to be completed for the SLN to be delivered, I saw tasks like badges, videos, email campaigns, micro-learning courses, and knowledge library content. I just could not picture how everything would come together and how employees would buy into the new experience. Queue in Workplace by Meta. Gosh, they had to learn a new tool, too!
All of this was going through my mind, while at the same time, we were implementing a social learning network at Your Instructional Designer. You know, we don’t only talk the talk, but we have to walk the walk. We have to make sure we are ambassadors of that change. Yes, that meant I had to learn a new tool as well!
I am not going to lie. There was a little resistance on my end to the change, whether it was because social learning networks were a new concept to me, because it would mean navigating a new technology, or because I simply did not think it was an approach that would stick. But I had a job to do and a project to deliver, so I started going down the list and making the social learning network happen for our client.
And that is when it happened, a “seeing is believing” moment.
The parts of the project started to connect and the network started to become “alive.” The knowledge library started to get filled, the different groups were created, the learning paths were set out, the first users were added, and little by little my skepticism subsided. It was at this point that I realized the power that social learning networks can have for a company and its employees.
So, let's talk about why I am now a social learning network advocate and why I think that it is a scalable solution for a company’s onboarding and upskilling needs.
In my experience, “traditional training”, whether it is instructor-led training, asynchronous courses, and yes even cohort-based learning experiences, can often be like leading a horse to water and walking away thinking:
“Well, I showed it the way, that is the hardest part. If it drinks or not is not my problem. I did my job.”
But, why not create an environment where the horse realizes he is thirsty and goes off in the search of water on its own?
Why not an environment where the horse has an innate desire to show his horse friends how he found the water and where not to go looking?
That environment is a social learning network.
You then might say:
“But Rocio, we have XYZ technology to encourage them to collaborate, and they just do not use it." And I will lead you back to my attempt at trying to write a cool first blog and my horse (*cough cough* learners) metaphor and tell you that having technology alone will not create a social learning environment where people want to innately interact with one another. You first have to create the environment for social learning to take place in a purposeful way; an environment where interactions and learning opportunities are meaningful, ongoing, diverse, and in a state of constant evolution. But, that is a topic for another blog post.
Now, I am not saying that social learning networks replace all other training solutions because that is simply not true. A needs analysis needs to take place to determine if a company and what they need match with what a social learning network can offer. But, providing an environment for authentic collaboration experiences will allow employees to gain and develop skills needed for success in their current and future roles.
Why It Actually Works
Life is social by nature and work is a part of life. People want to connect with people who understand what they do on a day-to-day basis, even if, especially if, they’re working on a remote or hybrid team.
Going through work alone, whether it is on a regular work day, mandatory training, or onboarding, can lead to employees feeling disconnected from their peers, the company, and ultimately the work they are hired to do. Whether you consider yourself an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, shared experiences with coworkers leads to higher job satisfaction and a connection with the company's values and mission.
It is no mystery that the sharing of knowledge in the workplace not only leads to increased productivity but also to employees doing their job in a more effective and efficient manner.
One of the advantages of knowledge exchange through a social learning network is that knowledge sharing is not only going to happen within a particular department but company-wide. After all, it is easier to make a connection with Stacy from Accounting through telecommunication, than in the employee lounge when she is already in a conversation with her other accounting peers.
A social learning network allows employees to connect in a formal and informal learning environment. It enables employees to find like-minded people by creating a personal learning network and obtaining knowledge through formal training.
Exchanging ideas with work peers imparts instant practical knowledge that we might otherwise have had to fail to obtain, kind of like real-life scenario-based learning. Knowledge sharing between employees leads to practical and effective solutions. Add a touch of expert information (like live streams with leaders, microlearning vetted by SMEs, and curated articles) and you have the recipe for a perfectly balanced social learning network.
As for me in particular, Workplace by Meta has become my go-to place. I even check it before I check my email. Whether it is to as clarification from a co-worker, to read and provide my thoughts on a new post that contains expert information on social learning, to share with a co-worker what my kid said yesterday at dinner, or to check out our knowledge library for our brand style guide, our internal social learning network at Your Instructional Designer has become my most valuable work tool.
But most important of all, I feel connected to my team throughout the day. I feel that I belong at Your Instructional Designer and that my work, expertise, and opinions have a direct impact on the growth and success of the company.