Why social learning should be on everyone’s L&D agenda


Why social learning should be on everyone’s L&D agenda

Social learning isn’t anything new.

In some form or another, the phrase ‘social learning’ has been around in psychology since at least the 1940s.[1] But advances in technology during the 21st century have enabled knowledge to spread quicker than ever before through social channels.

Take YouTube for example. It has 1.5 billion monthly active users, with 500 hours of video being uploaded every minute and almost 1 billion hours of YouTube watched every single day.[2] What was once pockets of isolated knowledge is now a living hub of learning, fuelled by relentless sharing and discussion.

To get a bit more specific, technology has transformed today’s learning environment in two fundamental ways:

  • Information availability: With the help of Google, YouTube, Wikipedia, anyone can know anything at the click of a button. The smartest person in the room is essentially the person with internet connection.
  • Rate of knowledge evolution (or decay): The half-life of knowledge (the time from when knowledge is gained to when it becomes obsolete) is diminishing rapidly. In some disciplines it’s been suggested that half of what students learn at university will be obsolete by the time they graduate![3]

In response to these shifts, future of work literature (ours included) has highlighted how what someone knows is now less important than how fast they can learn and apply that learning to new scenarios. The conclusion many have made: Organisations should concentrate on developing ‘agile’ learners.

It’s by no means the wrong strategy, but it is perhaps a narrow one.

By focussing on developing individual agile learners, it’s easy to miss the bigger paradigm change occurring - in today’s world, learning is no longer about enabling individuals to learn fast, but unleashing the ideas, knowledge and experience of entire communities, enabling the whole organisation to grow and learn in real-time.

This is the type of social energy and learning that organisations should be aiming for. This is what can have a huge impact on business performance. Still not sure? Take a look at this fantastic example of how a social learning system at Xerox accelerated learning and cut training costs – it was estimated to save them $100 million per year!

So, if it’s not already, that is why social learning should be on everyone’s L&D agenda for 2018.



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

[2] Mind-Blowing YouTube Stats, Facts and Figures for 2017, infographic,

retrieved 13th October, 2017:


[3] Charette, R.N. (2013). An Engineering Career: Only a Young Person’s Game? IEEE-Spectrum article, retrieved from:

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