What is social learning?

Humans are social creatures. We listen to stories and pass them on. We build communities in which we live, learn, grow and engage with others. We learn from observing our families, friends, siblings and teachers. We listen to and trust our friends, family, and extended networks. We learn from their experiences, and often from their mistakes. And this applies to our learning too – we learn from observing and interacting with others.

There is often some confusion that social learning means learning in groups, and I have been guilty of this confusion myself. Whilst that can be a part of it, Albert Bandura who created the theory defines social learning as “a cognitive process that takes place in a social context and can occur purely through observation or direct instruction, even in the absence of motor reproduction or direct reinforcement” (Docebo).

Thrive learning describes user-generated content (UGC) and social learning as “any content that includes articles, blogs, videos, images, reviews, created by people, not organisations or brands“ (Thrive, 2021).

As you can see from these definitions, the key to this theory is the actual means through which the learning passes. It is about learning through the behaviours and experiences of other people. It is watching or hearing instructions of others completing the required task, and then putting it into action yourself.

For example, say your kitchen tap is broken. What is the first thing that many of us do? Go straight to YouTube to see how to fix it. Then we may go to a website and buy a new part, where we look at the reviews others have left to help inform our decision. This is the very essence of social learning. Someone else has already worked out the answer to our problem, and we watch their video to see how to resolve it, and which part is best to buy to resolve it.

Or maybe their provided solution didn’t work for you but you found an alternative fix, and so you leave a comment below to explain to others the alternative solution you found that could work for them too.

This is not a new trend as such, but certainly is only becoming more widely adopted now especially since the pandemic hit, and is being embedded into learning in new and innovative ways. Methods of social learning such as UGC are seeing a surge in their implementation. But why is this?


Why social learning?

There are clear benefits of including social learning in your learning strategy.

There is a forgetting curve to all of our learning, which has shown that most people will recall just 10% of information 72 hours after the learning experience. The inclusion of social learning can help to increase this percentage to up to 70% of information remembered. And we trust people more than we do businesses.

“Consumers find UGC 9.8 times more impactful than influencer content and 70% of global consumers trust online customer reviews.” (Thrive, 2021)

Social learning develops a learning environment that encourages conversation and collaboration, in which the learners have autonomy for the development of themselves and their peers. In short, it creates a shared experience.

In short, the more the participants put in the more they will get out of it, and so will you as the facilitator. You will see a community grow, a self-directed ethos of learning will build momentum, and you will hopefully see a new excitement build around learning.

Excerpt taken from an article produced for Communicator Journal – to be published in Summer 2021, and will be available on my Resources page.