Shedding light on social learning myths

Colleagues learning together

Shedding light on social learning myths

How much do you know about social learning?

Last year we held a roundtable for HR and Learning and Development experts on the topic of social learning. During our conversations we realised that there were a few common myths and misconceptions surrounding social learning that seemed to be holding people back from integrating social learning effectively into their L&D strategies. So, these are our top 5 social learning myths…and the truth behind them…

1. Social learning is new

It’s not. In some form or another, the phrase ‘social learning’ has been around in psychology since at least the 1940s.[1] However, although the concept of social learning is nothing new, integrating it into an organisation’s L&D strategy is still pretty new ground for many L&D professionals. In our social learning survey, we found that 45% of organisations do not have social learning as an integral part of their L&D strategy. In addition, 73% of respondents were not familiar with the evidence around social learning; suggesting that many of those in L&D roles may be in the dark in terms of why or how to incorporate social learning effectively.

2. Social learning happens organically

Technically this is true. We begin social learning from our first moments in the world. As infants, we start observing others and mimicking their behaviour, [2] and as we get older our abilities develop and we start sharing ideas, lessons and stories. Connecting and learning from and with others is inherent in human behaviour. However, it’s only really a half truth. Yes, social learning happens organically, but optimal social learning does not. It’s not enough for organisations to depend on the fact that social learning will happen organically, it needs to be encouraged, facilitated and accelerated through carefully constructed L&D strategies.

3. Social learning is always informal

Social learning is often perceived as synonymous with informal learning, or the “20” in the 70:20:10 framework. This can result in a closed off approach where social learning is seen as distinct from formal learning such as seminars, workshops and courses, or from hands-on learning in a job. However, well designed formal classroom learning will also create opportunities for discussion where participants draw on and share their own wisdom. Social learning can be incorporated into any learning intervention, not just informal ones.

4. Social learning only happens through technology

In our digital age with so many online forums and quick ways to make and upload videos, it’s easy to assume that social learning only happen through technology. Yes, it often does, but it’s not the only way.

5. You can’t measure social learning

In our social learning roundtable last year, there was a lack of belief that social learning could be measured and that seemed to be echoed in our survey with 83% of people reporting that they don’t measure the effectiveness of social learning. Social learning can absolutely be measured, it just requires a mindset shift away from typical measurements you might use for formal learning. To point you in the right direction, we believe two key measures are important when measuring social learning: Activity and Effectiveness. In a nutshell, Activity identifies the capacity of your social learning system and Effectiveness tells you about its impact. If you need more help with measuring your social learning efforts, look out for our upcoming article which goes into measurement in more detail.


[1] Miller, N. E., & Dollard, J. (1941). Social learning and imitation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

[2] Bandura, A. Ross, D., & Ross, S. A (1961). Transmission of aggression through the imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 575-582.