Blended learning is not a new concept, but it’s evolving. New digital technologies are redefining blended learning experiences for the modern learner. In the past blended learning programs combined the best of classroom and online learning. Today, blended learning layers in digital technologies and L&D practices as well.

Another popular concept that’s related – but distinct – is social learning. Let’s explore how companies are including social learning in their blended learning experiences.

Want to do a deep dive on blended learning? Download Reimagining Blended Learning Experiences: 8 Best Practices from Leading Companies.

What is social learning?

Social learning is “the collection and sharing of information learned from peers and from social media,” according to the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM).

75% of the informal learning in the workplace is due to this type of peer-to-peer or social learning. Learning from mentors or coaches on the job is not new. But new social media tools and online discussion forums amplify this type of learning.

Teams are becoming more digital and tech-savvy, too. The 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report  found 32% of companies are more team-oriented and connected with social media. And 75% of L&D professionals have adopted social learning technologies.

Here are five social learning tactics to consider including your blended learning offering.

1. Combining classroom and social learning

Traditional classroom learning experiences can also be social learning experiences. This occurs when they’re designed to promote teamwork and collaboration. The 2019 Human Capital Trends Report explains, “As teams become more important in the delivery of more types of work, organizations will offer learning opportunities that support individuals as members of teams, providing content and experiences specific to the context of a worker’s team.

At large or fast-growing organizations, classroom learning offers a chance for employees to get to know and learn from their peers. Ariel Hunsberger, Head of L&D at Slack, says: “Our in-person trainings are not only a learning opportunity but also a social and team-building opportunity. A huge draw for our learners is the chance to meet other team members and hear about what their peers are doing and learning. As a result, we build in plenty of time for discussion and hands-on learning so employees can interact with each other. Getting to hear a talk by an expert will draw a good audience, but the chance to meet peers and understand their work is an even bigger incentive.”

See 4 Lessons for Building a Learning Culture from Slack’s Head of L&D.

KPMG is intentionally creating group learning spaces that will facilitate social learning. Their new learning center promotes learning behaviors like reflection and networking with colleagues.

2. Group mentoring

A cohort of employees going through the same curriculum can use a group mentoring approach. This provides a sense of community and support. For example, Publicis Sapient, a consulting firm, created a blended learning AI Academy. They upskill consultants in key artificial intelligence (AI) and data science skills to help win new business.

Ian Stevens, Capability Development Lead at Publicis Sapient North America says, “Our L&D team believes there is no one right path to learning. Employees might have a 5-minute break or allocate a 2-day slot to learn. To fit the busy modern learner, our L&D team looked at every possible way to provide training and then blended them all together.”

3. Cohort-based social media forums

Cohort-based social media forums include tools like Slack, Facebook Workplace, or Microsoft Yammer. Learners can use these tools to ask questions, discuss issues, and share articles. According to Chief Learning Officer, “The ability of social learning technologies to provide on-demand access to real-time discussion, training, support, and expertise, as well as foster on-the-job learning through communities of practice, make them a valuable asset and well worth the effort to gain buy-in on their behalf.”

Many companies are already making use of these tools. Employees at Slack use their own tool to share ideas and resources. Ariel Hunsberger, Head of L&D at Slack, says, “Slack can also serve as an online social channel that keeps the learning conversation going post-training and lets employees recommend relevant courses or articles to their peers, and ask each other for advice long after the in-person workshop concludes.”

Slack and Udemy for Business have partnered up to make social learning even easier. You can now share courses or learning paths to scale the impact of learning at your organization. Contact us to learn more.

Cohort-based social media forums can also be used to build and promote a culture of learning when executives or other leaders share their learning experiences via these channels and model this behavior to other employees.

Publicis Sapient’s AI Academy is a structured program. It is tied to hiring and staffing of roles at the company. The L&D team created a blended learning AI Academy with Udemy for Business courses. There are learning paths in key AI and data science available for their global workforce.

They tapped internal leaders to serve as “group mentors” for each AI Academy cohort. The group mentor holds “office hours” and serves as the go-to person for advice. Group mentors offer interactive webinars. These focus on use cases specific to Publicis Sapient. Mentors also moderate online social forums where employees discuss ideas and share articles.

Finally, they offer AI Academy members community roundtables to reinforce learning in person. AI Academy members can spend 3-5 hours a week on learning and non-billable time. This creates reasonable expectations and promotes work/life balance.

The result? The AI Academy upskilled their workforce in key AI and data science skills. Consultants won new business growth.

Learn more about Publicis Sapient’s approach in  Learning at the Speed of Business.

4. Scalable coaching

There are many ways to incorporate coaching into the blended learning experience. You can layer social learning and one-on-one coaching. This reinforces learning on the job and ensures behavior change occurs. You could also look for ways to offer scalable coaching. This could include internal group mentors, video-based meetings, and tools.

Lissa Minkin, VP, People & Workplace at Tile, is building a “one-size-fits-one” approach to learning. This incorporates online learning platforms, 360 tools, and individualized coaching.

Lissa explains, “We’re getting to a place where it makes more sense to take a “one-size-fits-one” approach.  This contrasts with rather than the “one-size-fits-all” approach we’ve seen in the past. New technologies facilitate one- size-fits-one learning because they help us identify individual needs and enable us to provide personalized learning at scale.”

Lissa starts by identifying skills gaps across all the 360 assessments. Next, she creates learning modules around these recurring topics and themes.

She plans to use Zoom as a virtual classroom where employees can join sessions led by experts. The second part of the program will involve punctuating learning with individualized coaching. The coaches should be familiar with the employee’s specific skill gaps and what they’ve already learned as a cohort. Employees will get one-on-one support, but it won’t be as costly or time-intensive as individual coaching. Lissa says, “I believe this scalable one-size-fits-one approach can help accelerate learning and behavior change on the job.”

Read more from Lissa in Tile’s VP of People & Workplace on One-Size-Fits-One (Not All) Learning.

5. Chatbots

According to Chief Learning Officer, chatbots will be one of the biggest trends in learning in 2019. Chatbots can connect employees to the information and resources they need.

There’s one major difference between chatbots and other information sources like online search. eLearning Industry says chatbots “can ensure that it’s the right information, targeted and personalized for the person looking for it. The data is placed in context, right for your organization’s employee. So instead of endless ways of doing, you access the right one for the right time and place.”

Learners can access chatbots at any time and place. Remote and distributed workforces can integrate chatbots into their workflow.

Interacting with chatbots over time can improve retention and application of new knowledge and skills, argues Vincent Han, Founder and CEO of Mobile Coach in a Training Industry article. Han observes high engagement and follow-through when employees engaged with chatbots post-training.

The blended learning landscape has completely transformed in recent years. In this post, we’ve explored a few social learning tools and tactics. Use them to enhance your blended learning experience and build a learning culture at your organization. Download Reimagining Blended Learning Experiences: 8 Best Practices from Leading Companies to learn more.


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