Social Learning: Current Trends and Future Challenges?

No discussion on learning innovation could possibly leave out social learning. This form of learning is fast becoming mainstream as interactions at work increasingly replicate those in our social lives.

“Social collaboration is one of the most natural and effective ways people have used to share and apply knowledge, so it is common sense that social e-learning – which is social and instructor-led – should be used today.”

Christian Böhler, Senior Learning Technologies and Methods Manager at RWE Group Business Services

The fact social e-learning has implicit (unscheduled) learning rather than explicit (scheduled) social learning at its core, many people believe that enterprise social networks are the thread that links everything together. Cathy Hoy, European Senior L&D Manager at Coca-Cola European Partners commented, “Social networks can be really helpful for engaging learners before a formal learning event. Allowing people to interact with fellow learners beforehand is a great way to help ‘break the ice’. It’s also a great way for the trainer to introduce themselves in advance to the group, perhaps ask some challenging questions to get the group thinking and to create the right state for learning.”

But social learning is not a blueprint for having ‘unmanaged’ learning – the managed piece is also really important. Certain organisations have professional community managers who do nothing else but manage learning communities within the organisation. This structure does require a shift in the role of the HR Director and L&D head, with a role in influencing a shift in company culture, and everything around the culture, for example, the conditions, permissions, facilitation, and community management.

Many believe enterprise social networks still need to be driven by community managers, in this case trainers, and that groups can’t be expected to manage themselves, certainly not at first. A critical element that also should not be overlooked is to ensure leaders are engaged. In time, this will encourage learning communities to flourish, with a number of studies concluding that when leaders actually interact with enterprise social networks and share their thoughts to the business on a regular basis, they are perceived to be more open and trusted.

Top tips for social learning:

  • Don’t just introduce social learning to the workplace because you think it’s what everyone’s doing. You need to have a reason for it.
  • Senior Manager support is crucial.
  • Community management is essential.


There can be no doubt that mobile, social, and blended learning are all beginning to enter the mainstream, and are starting to seriously challenge traditional learning methods. They bring business benefit, improve organisational learning, and perhaps most crucially of all, they are all technologies L&D heads should no longer be afraid of.