Diagnosing Social Learning Engagement Issues

Today’s question came from our January 2022 2-Week Learning Cluster Design Public Practicum, where Kristen, an Instructional Designer, asked the following question:

“I can design social assets; however, what I’m seeing across projects and solutions is they aren’t engaging in social channels. For example, we’ll ask them to give a thumbs up if they found a podcast beneficial or we’ll ask a specific question and ask them to post an answer and we don’t get a single response. How should we handle this part of Surround if we’re finding they hesitate to engage socially?”

First, let’s dive into what we define as Social Learning. In our book Designing for Modern Learning, Lisa M.D Owens and I identify three “learning touchpoints” that outline key places, times, and ways that learning occurs. One of these touchpoints, Social Learning, looks beyond formal, planned approaches and provides learners with a level of interaction with other people. In most face-to-face learning experiences (including virtual) whether we design for it or not, social learning happens inherently.

Once the face-to-face experience ends, most learning professionals check off the proverbial “social learning” box, but modern learning doesn’t stop at the end of an event. In fact, social learning should be occurring before, during, and after a formalized social training event, and more specifically, in the modern learners’ moment of need, which are often unplanned and unintentional. While many of today’s social learning experiences are occurring informally outside of the classroom, in order to ensure truly transformative learning, modern Learning & Development professionals should grow the capability to intentionally build social learning-centered experiences.

If you are wondering why your social channels aren’t working, here are a few questions to ask yourself to get to the root cause of why.

  1. How is social learning perceived by the learners? In many cases when social learning isn’t working, it’s because it’s perceived by the learner as a benefit to the L&D department, not to the learners themselves. To take your learners somewhere “new,” you have to have a very clear and compelling WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) that resonates and makes them want to participate in your social learning channels.
  2. Where are my learners already? If you are implementing a brand new social learning tool, there is a high level of change management that would need to occur in order to see widespread adoption and success. Rather than adopting a new tool, take a look at where your learners are already, and see what layer of social learning you can add to what is existing.
  3. Where does social learning have the biggest benefit? When you take a 30,000 foot look at your Strategic Performance Objective (SPO) and your learner personas, it’s important to identify where social learning fits into your strategy. Rather than using the all-for-one approach, create a social learning asset specific to those who would benefit most from it, and who both need and want it. You will see much higher adoption rates when your social learning asset is designed using one of the Nine Modern Learning Elements – “For Me”.
  4. Am I creating social learning for the sake of social learning? Unless you have a real clear reason where learning from each other is a benefit, and to do that in a public, asynchronous way like a social channel, your social learning asset will just sit on a shelf. Going back to understanding our learner personas and when they actually have time to learn in the flow of work, it’s important to keep in mind that there are so many things tugging on people’s time in the workplace, and unless it’s necessary for their success, it’s hard to get people to do something that is optional.

The biggest thing to keep in mind is that building a social learning culture takes time and can often be a slow build. Give yourself permission to have your social learning asset be an option, and see who comes to use it. While it isn’t something you need to necessarily track, you never know what hidden persona comes out of the woodwork who needs and wants this type of learning asset.

Here’s a recap:

Where are you struggling with social learning? We’d love to continue the conversation and offer guidance from our experience. Join the conversation on LinkedIn.