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Social Learning: definition and implications

Whether you work in management, or as a HR manager or even a training manager, you see it every day in your job: the field of training is evolving at a frantic pace. New learning methods are constantly emerging, and with them, new jargon. So let’s focus on a term you’ve probably heard a lot lately: social learning. What exactly is it? How does this learning method differ from others? In short: what is the definition of social learning and what are the benefits for learners?

Definition of social learning

What is social learning?

Social learning is a way of enriching the transmission of knowledge through peer-to-peer exchanges. In other words, learners no longer acquire knowledge only from the trainer, but also learn from each other. It is therefore a collaborative concept based on the sharing of experiences.

Where does this concept come from?

The first person to talk about social learning was Albert Bandura, in the 1970s. This Canadian psychologist, professor emeritus at Stanford University, is considered the father of social cognitive theory.

This theory states that knowledge is acquired, not only through observation of the environment and other people, but also through experience. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be personal experience: those shared by peers are just as enriching!

Social learning therefore works very well in the classroom. This is one of the reasons why teachers often ask students (at high school or university) to work in small groups. This way, they can benefit from the exchanges with their peers to apply and further consolidate the knowledge they have gained.

During these collaborative sessions, the transfer of knowledge therefore is horizontal (between peers) and no longer vertical (from the expert to the learner). The trainer is no longer the “knowledgeable one”, and his role evolves more into that of a coach. His objective is to guide the learners to encourage the exchange of knowledge.

With the help of digital tools, it is also possible to apply the concepts of social cognitive theory to distance learning!

The ins and outs of social learning in distance learning

If social learning can be applied to school education, vocational training is not to be overlooked, including distance learning.

Thanks to the Internet and digital tools, it is very easy to complement distance learning with social learning. For example, it is possible to set up virtual classes via video-conferencing software. Learners can thus converse with each other by video or chat.

The advantage is that, with the help of these collaborative tools, it is possible to get people to interact, who might never have been able to meet in person! Let’s take an example. Let’s say you have two employees in your team who are learning German. One works in Paris, the other in Toulouse. However, with the help of the Internet and social learning, they can share and discuss with each other through group sessions.

Social learning is an excellent way of creating a sense of belonging and stimulating the sharing of ideas between group members. This often results in better productivity for the company.

This presumes, of course, that the learners are comfortable with digital tools. Your training organisation should therefore offer your learners easy-to-use communication tools that inspire confidence and create a favourable environment that encourages cooperation between peers.

A closer look at social learning for language training

Expression and comprehension are the two essential elements of language learning. Indeed, to master a language, one must not only know how to read and write it, but also to understand and speak it.

In language training, social learning allows learners to exchange in and about the language they are learning. Depending on the medium, this strengthens their speaking, listening and reading skills.

Ideally, you should choose a training organisation that offers training sessions in small groups, organised around themes that are known to all the participants. In this way, everyone will have the opportunity to get involved in the activities proposed by the trainer:

– debates;

– brainstorming;

– role-plays, etc.

The objective of social learning sessions applied to language training is twofold. On the one hand, it is a question of creating a dynamic that allows learners to become involved, and on the other hand, it is a question of ensuring that the knowledge of the language acquired during the training course is properly reproduced.

By allowing learners to speak in public on a topic that concerns them, it is more motivating to practise the language and the knowledge is more firmly consolidated.

It is an excellent add-on to individual language lessons and independent exercises.