E-Learning and technology-aided learning in the workplace allows more flexibility and increases access to learning by huge proportions. It is then not a surprise that technology-aided learning is now being adopted by a majority of forward thinking organizations. With an increasing amount of budgets directed towards creating e-learning and building the platforms of delivery, it is now imperative that e-learning initiatives align to the needs of the entire learner group – including learners who are less than enthusiastic.
A strictly linear structure, where an e-course is simply made available on the technology-aided learning platform maybe sufficient for the self-motivated learners, but not suitable for all. Many learners within the group may choose to learn in a different manner, have varied learning styles. It is now an established fact that a flexible training program with a variety of multiple learning pathways offers more learning opportunities and therefore better chances course drop-outs. With Social learning learners can be suitably engaged. Continuous support from peers as well as trainers or experts on the social platform makes sure that learners do not feel ‘isolated’ during the learning process. However, there are a few principles of social learning that must be followed when embarking on the learning endeavor to ensure its impact as well as success.
- Ownership: The biggest hurdle in the way of a successful e-learning initiative is that learners are often not motivated to access learning on the organizational LMS or complete an e-course to gain adequate knowledge. To understand actual needs of the learners, Social learning platforms can be utilized. Learners can discuss their needs and demand the topics that they want more information on, or newer subjects they want to master. Content creation can then follow, which aligns to the needs of the learners. Since the learners are in control of the learning and gives a sense of ownership. This is an essential ingredient for motivation and self-organized learning.
- Self-Organization: Just like social interactions cannot be coerced, social learning cannot be forced. To ensure the success of social learning, training managers have to put more trust in the hands of learners to guide their own learning. Even if trainers or instructors can take on the role of facilitators within a social learning group, they must allow as much self-organization as possible, while staying within the boundaries and restrictions of individual learning project. For instance, at the beginning of the learning assignment, instead of assessing how much the learners know through written assignments, instructors can instead ask questions and lead the learners to pro-active dialogue.
- Trust: The social platform provides a safe avenue to discuss ideas and this helps learners become more confident about their views. Every contribution or comment is treated with respect. Peers and fellow learners ‘like’ them and this creates a sense of pride. On the whole, participating in a social forum builds relationships and fosters trust among learners.
- Collaboration: Collaboration is necessary for the success of any social learning platform. When learners can freely interact with their peers on the social platform, they tend to perform better. They also take a greater interest in assignments when working with others, who can guide or support them when necessary. Above all, it is simply more interesting working in a group than alone. Trainers can support collaboration through group-based work and regular feedback. This makes social collaboration fruitful and the exchange of information becomes a source for action as well as reaction.
- Challenging: Learners are best motivated to learn when they are faced with challenging, but manageable assignments. On their part, trainers should ensure that learning assignments should align to the learning level of an individual learner or a group of learners. Trainers need not be the only ones that decide the topics to study. Learners themselves can bring out topics that they consider relevant to research or further, deeper study. The assignments that trainers suggest and what the learners themselves decide can come together to maintain relevance related to the learning goals set out at the beginning of the course.
- Relevance: Finally, to foster actual learning, the relevance of topics discussed in the social forum has to be maintained. This cannot be a strict, unrelenting line, demarcating what is relevant and what is not. There should be a balance between topics suggested by the trainer (more aligned to the pre-decided curriculum) and topics from the learners. A mix of both makes sure that learning is well rounded and most importantly, the learners remain engaged.
The merits of Social learning are now being given the due credit that they deserve. In addition to an interactive platform of interaction, social forums are utilized for learning in the corporate space. Learners are more open to the prospect of learning along peers and are enthusiastic to lap up the opportunities for further personal growth. For trainers as well, it is an opportunity to understand the learners better and align learning to individual needs to get better results.
References and suggested further reading: Social Media to Foster Self-Organized Participatory Learning for Disengaged Learners by Pieter de Vries & Thieme Hennis of Delft University of Technology, Delft, Netherlands