What is Social Learning (and How to Adopt it)?


The basic principle of social learning is that people learn from observing other people. It is based on the social learning theory proposed by psychologist Albert Bandura, who emphasized the importance of observing, modeling, and imitating the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions of others. According to Albert Bandura, learning is a cognitive process taking place in social content and happens through observation. 

Bandura’s social learning theory contrasts with traditional learning theories in favor of a real-life approach to learning with a focus on just-in-time learning and skills development. His social learning theory complements the 70-20-10 model for learning and development, which was created in the 1980s by three researchers and authors working with the Center for Creative Leadership, a nonprofit educational institution. 

The 70-20-10 model is commonly used in the training industry to describe the optimal sources of learning for industry professionals and managers. The model recommends that 70% of learning happens from job-related experiences, with 20% coming from social interactions with others and the remaining 10% from formal learning programs. 

Social learning is seeing a renewed interest in the context of corporate learning, specifically after social media platforms became an integral part of our everyday life, and its increasing application at the workplace. Social media’s range of tools provides opportunities to improve learning by facilitating collaboration and community building. 

Social learning can make formal learning more effective and efficient, increasing learners’ motivation and engagement, and sustaining the learning process. According to Brandon Hall Group research, social learning approaches can deliver a 75:1 return on investment (ROI) compared to traditional training methods. Even 87% of employees today prefer collaborative work culture that relies on sharing and collaboration for work including learning.

Learning Management Systems (LMS) embrace social learning features to increase engagement and learning outcomes. 

Social learning application by educational institutions:

Harvard Business School (HBS) launched its online collaborative learning platform HBX, in which participants were first asked to complete their profile including pictures, before accessing course contents. The idea was to facilitate virtual meetings and enable participants to get to know each other before they embark on their learning journey. The first page showcased the participants and their locations instead, of course. This simple modification sets the foundation for engaging in collaboration later in the course. 

The promotion of social learning was one of the main objectives of the HBX platform. When a student asked a question on the platform, the HBS faculty resisted the urge to respond and instead allowed peers to answer. Even when the group struggled with a concept, the HBS faculty resisted the need to intervene to correct it and relied on peers. HBS found that in 90% of the cases, the questions were precisely and accurately answered by the group. 

HBS discovered that the basis for realizing the full potential of collaboration lies in trusting the group of learners. Online collaborative learning also helps to overcome certain biases and behaviors that arise unintentionally in traditional classroom training environments.

Social learning application by enterprise:

Social learning provides the organization the ability to formalize the informal knowledge existing within the enterprise. This helps to improve the organizational knowledge base and competencies that drive competitiveness in the marketplace. The employees are recognized and rewarded for their efforts who, in turn, feel valued, leading to higher engagement and retention. 

Social learning is now increasingly used by organizations to encourage collaborative learning, and drive individual performance. The tools involved facilitate informal learning by helping learners network, share, collaborate, and exchange ideas to solve problems that enable them to develop individual and organizational capabilities. Even employees acknowledge the utility of social learning with 87% of employees identifying knowledge sharing as essential.

The application of social learning in corporate training is more than sharing comments, posts, video chats, and requires a structured social learning strategy. The active involvement of L&D professionals on an ongoing basis is essential for the implementation of social learning features, and facilitating online communities to enable employees to share knowledge.

Discussion boards, questions and answers tools, and sharing and commenting features are the prominent three social features incorporated in LMS.

According to a Chief Learning Officer survey, 75 percent of L&D professionals have adopted social learning technologies fully or to some extent into their learning strategies. Among the favored social technologies are discussion forums, instant messaging, and online shared workspaces, among others. 

The top three challenges faced by the L&D teams in the implementation of social learning are adoption by employees, difficulty in assessing the impact, and time required to manage communities and online forums.

Why is social learning effective?

There are five ways in which social learning is effective for enterprises: 

  • Build a training community

Every organization has in-house subject-matter-experts (SMEs) who have been restrained from sharing their knowledge because of organizational silos and geographical boundaries limitations. The social learning features help to eliminate the limitations by allowing them to contribute to the collective knowledge base of the organization and help individuals to develop their professional expertise. 

  • Faster time to productivity

Social learning enables new hires to reach their full potential quicker by helping them to connect with their co-workers and subject matters. The familiarity with other co-workers and ease of learning by asking questions on online forums help new hires to build their professional expertise to reach peak performance faster. The ability to learn 24/7 from anywhere and instant responses to queries accelerates the learning process, shortening the time taken to achieve productivity. 

  • Improve learnability and higher knowledge retention

Most people recall only 10% of the knowledge within 72 hours of learning through a traditional learning method. Social learning helps employees retain knowledge for a longer period of time, with knowledge acquired on a need basis from the experts through online forums and other social tools. 

A Bersin and Associates research study has indicated that learners can retain only 5% of what they hear and just 10% of what they read. However, when learners are more actively involved as in social learning context, their knowledge retention increases to 50%.

  • Enhance employee engagement

The ability to upload user-generated content makes employees more connected with the organization. Social learning also offers employees opportunities to create a self-directed learning path that enhances their motivation and engagement as they get a feeling of being in charge of their own careers.

  • Reduce attrition 

The workplace collaboration enabled by social learning contributes to better organizational work culture, creating a sense of belonging among employees. Social learning boosts employee engagement, resulting in lower employee turnover and higher retention.

How to adopt social learning?

Implementing social learning as part of your organization’s learning strategy is the next step for you. Here are the steps towards adopting social learning for your workplace.

  • Discussion boards and forums: Create an online forum where employees can ask questions and get answers from internal experts within the organization as part of collaborative learning. You should moderate the forum to ensure it follows corporate guidelines but limit the intervention to a minimum.
  • Organization wikis: An interdepartmental organizational wiki is a great source of knowledge assimilation and dissemination to familiarize people with the organization, especially new employees. Allow role-based rights to ensure the knowledge is up-to-date and that the information doesn’t violate any policies. 
  • Gamification: Gamification of learning will help you address the challenge of employee adoption of social learning. Gamification of corporate learning and skill development has helped in developing a sense of competitiveness among employees. The incentives act as motivation for employees to increase their participation and engagement in learning. 


An effective implementation of social learning in an organization requires a cultural shift. If you are ready to incorporate social learning practices into your organization’s learning, then you can contact Auzmor to learn more about these strategies and how to make them effective. 

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