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Making Sense of Social Learning

Think about the last time you attended a seminar. Maybe you were catching up on continuing education during the weekend or even attending a session at Relias Learning’s Industry Conference, Impact Nation.  Odds are, you recall the presentation, but you also remember the great connections you made and some valuable information you learned from a peer.

That’s social learning. Author Marcia Conner (The New Social Learning) defines social learning as ‘participating with others to make sense of new ideas.’

As adult learners, we need to learn socially. Adult learning incorporates the learner’s knowledge and life experiences. The way we do that is through social interaction. We have discussions; we share experiences; we debate. As professionals, we all have life and work experience, which contribute to the conversation. An effective instructor knows how to draw out the learners’ contributions and relate it to the topic at hand.

Now, there’s been a lot of talk about ‘social learning’ as a technology and leveraging social media. You may ask: how do I make that part of my learning solution? Is this the right approach for us?  The thing to remember is this:

Social learning isn’t a technology at all; it’s a way of collecting information and perspectives from people across your organization and industry.

Tools are just the method of improving the communication and access. Just like any other ‘tool,’ you need to look at your organization’s situation to determine what will work best for your people. How do they share information now? Were people more informed and connected than they are now and if so, what’s changed? With more people working remotely, or in different locations, reduced budgets for travel and in-person seminars, you may find that social networks are less effective. You hold less formal training events. While formal training is important, the landscape has changed a quite a bit. We find that so much learning is informal, that the formal learning event is just the beginning, not the end state.

The context of learning is so important; learners need to discuss and try out new ideas. If interactions are limited because of geographical barriers, this is where organizations can look to the tools of social learning to capture the power of these professional relationships.


You may already use social learning tools and don’t realize it.

Does your organization use a messaging app or have a discussion board? I have several conversations a week via Skype for Business where I brainstorm new ideas and reframe existing ones. One of these exchanges evolved from informal learning (a colleague and me chatting about learning objectives) into more formal learning where I presented these ideas via a web meeting.

Types of tools include:

  • Blogs
  • Wikis
  • Twitter
  • YouTube
  • SlideShare
  • Yammer

A great benefit to employing technology is this: you have a digital trail. Others can access your discussion threads. You don’t need to recall a conversation. It’s the best of both words—organic, informal interaction, fully documented.

Learning Communities like Relias Connect are a great example of using a tool to facilitate interaction across distance. While we love to be onsite with you, and adore seeing you at Impact Nation, we want to interact with you every day, and more importantly, we want to provide a place for you to connect with others in your field, to share problems, and brainstorm solutions. Within our learning community, we offer many ways to connect with us, and your fellow Relias users. We’ve got social discussion boards, we host live discussions with our team members (Coffee Chat), and we provide a blogging tool for our learners to share their own knowledge and elicit feedback.

Social learning isn’t formal learning. It’s not the lecture; it’s the discussion about the lecture during the break. Or the chat messages during the webinar. If you’ve attended a conference in the last few years, you may have noticed most have a designated hash tag so that people can discuss the topic on social media like Twitter or Facebook.  For this year’s Impact Nation, the hash tags are: #ImpactNation16, #DiscoverTheImpact and #SurftheApp.


What kinds of social learning does your organization use? Leave us a comment and let us know how you share knowledge within your organization.



Bozarth, J. (2010). Social Media for Trainers: Techniques for Enhancing and Extending Learning (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Conner, M. (2012, October 4). Defining Social Learning. Retrieved August 23, 2016, from marciaconner.com

Malamed C. (Producer). (2015, December 16). Social Learning Is A Way Of Life [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from http://theelearningcoach.com/podcasts/29/

Pullagurla, A. (2014, January 20). 6 Top Facts About Adult Learning Theory. Retrieved August 23, 2016. From https://elearningindustry.com/6-top-facts-about-adult-learning-theory-every-educator-should-know


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