Your social learning questions answered

Team planning together

Your Social Learning Questions Answered

We’ve been talking a lot about social learning over the last few months. Here are our quickfire answers to your most frequently asked questions:

  • What’s the difference between social learning and collaboration?

Collaboration is more project based and time-bound. It’s a way of working together (potentially between external, internal, cross-functional or geographically dispersed teams) to achieve a common goal. [1] In contrast, social learning is a community’s continuous cycle of connecting, sharing, learning, sense-making, reviewing, recreating, and sharing back; and, in doing so continually evolving the collective knowledge and experience of the group.

  • How do virtual classrooms fit with social learning?

Virtual classrooms certainly can be run in a way that enables social learning. At Lane4 our virtual classrooms are designed to encourage more 2-way communication and group interaction than the more traditional webinar format, which has typically been more about “telling and pushing” information.

  • How do you measure social learning?

We recommend measuring both activity and effectiveness. Firstly, in terms of activity, analyse your population in terms of the numbers of non-participators, consumers (those who silently benefit from the community’s knowledge), contributors (those who get involved in discussion and debate) and creators of knowledge (those who disrupt and challenge ‘what’s known’, adding to new ways of thinking). For example, online, the number of consumers can be measured by exploring: how many people read or watch content without commenting, how many people attend learning groups or events without engaging in discussions, or how many people read discussions without joining in.

Secondly, in relation to effectiveness (i.e. how far the learning has spread or the caused behaviour change), we recommend collecting both individual narratives of where lessons learnt from others have been applied and improved day-to-day performance, and, community level metrics. For example, encouraging people to use social media hashtags to indicate where specific pieces of learning have shifted results).

  • How do you get senior engagement with social learning?

The case for integrating social learning into your strategy is a strong one. For too long L&D has been teaching people best practice without spending enough time unlocking all the practical knowledge, experience and ideas within the system.  Furthermore, with advances in technology, opportunities for social learning have exploded in the 21st century; so much so that the new generation entering the workforce are not only used to learning in a hyper-social fashion, but expect a system that supports it. For this new generation, YouTube provides ample tips on anything you need to know (from the best way to ‘roast a chicken’ to ‘how to fix your phone screen’), whilst apps like Waze harness all the power of live community-knowledge into a SatNav.

That said, from our research getting buy-in from the executive team mainly seemed a question of ‘can you prove investment will enhance performance?’. Consequently, we suggest the best way to gain engagement is to show how initiatives can and will be measured More on that to come in our next article.

  • How do you make social learning the new norm?

Engage people in the bigger vision and purpose for social learning. There is very little clarity around what the term ‘social learning’ means, therefore implementing initiatives without the proper communication and explanation is likely to fall flat. People need to know the what, why and how, of social learning; get them passionate about how it will help the organisation grow, and how it will help them perform, fine tune and innovate in their work. Be specific about how they can be part of it.

Furthermore, make it tangible. Social learning is not about asking people to do anything alien; to a great or lesser degree they will already be learning from others or sharing their ideas and tips with certain colleagues or limited groups. A social learning strategy is about making this unconscious behaviour more conscious whilst simultaneously building a system that enables knowledge to flow more quickly and efficiently.

Finally, role model. Don’t leave it up to others to kick this off. Think about how you could learn more from others and share what you know with those who’ll benefit.

  • Is it possible to have more social learning in regulated spaces (e.g. financial industry)?

Yes, it is possible, but you’d need a stricter ‘peer review’ process. Set up expert teams to quality check the content or best practice ideas submitted by individuals for sharing more widely with the organisation.

It’s also crucial to ensure the reason for this review process is communicated clearly to people, so they understand it’s to keep the organisation operating within regulations, not for HR to ‘police’ discussion. Furthermore, content shouldn’t be rejected or removed without clear explanations as to why this content or idea would conflict with industry regulations, company policy or cultural values.

  • How do you ensure the quality of content on your social learning platform?

As stated above, using a team of experts to review content is one way to ensure quality; however, this process does also need to be well communicated and managed to ensure people still feel it’s a safe environment to share new ideas and learnings. Another way to get a handle on the quality of learning is to allow people to rate the content they engage with on your social learning platform.

  • How do you get the ‘right’ people to participate in conversation?

For social learning to flourish and impact on performance, you really need everyone ‘participating’ in the sense that they are proactively learning from others and sharing their own practical tips and ideas. In terms of getting the ‘right’ people to participate in the conversation, you need to identify the ‘go-to’ people within certain groups; this can be done accurately and efficiently using network analysis software such as Sociomapping. Once you’ve identified the most influential people in the system, you can then target these individuals, engage them in the vision for social learning and upskill them in the different ways they can share their own knowledge and mobilise the knowledge of others.


[1] Whysall, Z. (2014). Collaborate to Perform. Lane4 White Paper, retrieved from