4 Ways to Launch a Successful Social Learning Program

Melissa Suzuno

HR and L&D Insights Writer at Udemy for Business

May 22, 2018

For many employees, learning at work often occurs through informal learning driven by interactions and conversations with coworkers. In fact, research has found that 75% of the informal learning that occurs in the workplace is due to this type of social learning.

Social learning occurs whenever employees consult or interact with peers, friends, and experts either in person or online to gain new knowledge. Peers also offer natural accountability to one another. Social learning is a key component of nudging people to learn and an effective way to influence behavior change.

Moreover, social learning has a more subtle, but powerful influence. Social cognitive theory states that people don’t learn or change behaviors in a vacuum, but are influenced by the social environment and behaviors of those around them. The power of observing and modeling peers can help individuals change their behavior. In particular, if rewards are introduced, employees may choose to copy the desired behavior. Social learning improves learning retention while reducing training costs.

There’s also a clear connection between social learning and employee engagement. Learning and Development (L&D) initiatives are already a top driver of engagement, but the constant and continuous nature of social learning amplify the opportunities for employees to participate and benefit.

Social learning has also increased with the proliferation of social media tools and online discussion forums that allow employees to easily connect online with peers and experts for advice. In a recent study published in the Harvard Business Review, researchers discovered employees who were connected to their peers via internal social platforms were more engaged and productive.

How can you create an environment where social learning flourishes? Here are four ideas.

4 ways to leverage social learning

1. Start cohort-based training

Cohort-based training is a form of social learning that allows cohorts to hold each other accountable as well as model each other as they implement what they learned. In addition, a new manager cohort can connect regularly online post-training through an internal social platform or monthly lunch meetings to help each other apply what they learned on the job.

2. Encourage peers to call each other in

Peers can call each other in (vs. calling out) either privately or publicly in a respectful manner. One way to encourage this type of behavior is through role-playing sessions where employees can practice calling each other in in real-life scenarios. Listening to peers in this way offers repetitive learning and can help employees remember to change unwanted behavior such as being biased in the workplace or interrupting colleagues in meetings.

As long as employees speak up in a respectful manner that assumes good intent, this public behavior can be an opportunity for learning.

3. Provide online social resources

Forums created before, during, and after the training build momentum and keep the conversation alive on topics like unconscious bias. When employees share their perspective or what they’ve just experienced with their peers, this creates a platform for discussion and social learning. Internal social media platforms for teams to connect and collaborate can also help employees work and learn out loud. Word of mouth and sharing knowledge they’ve learned or interesting articles by peers is another avenue for social learning.

You can also use an internal best practices blog or wiki to capture transferable knowledge. Employees can update sections so that you have a central place where information is stored. Peers can also create online courses to share with peers. That way, even when someone leaves your organization, other employees can continue to benefit from the knowledge they shared.

Workplace by Facebook is a communication and collaboration platform that transforms how businesses and teams work together. The Udemy for Business integration with Workplace by Facebook is a new feature that allows employees to easily share Udemy for Business courses with their Workplace groups and colleagues. Whether it’s a programming course that will help the team complete a project or a course on an how to give feedback effectively, sharing learning via Workplace is another way to promote social learning within your organization.

4. Assign accountability partners

Partners can be assigned during or after the training to help employees nudge each other to apply what they learned and change their behavior. Partners can make a commitment to a particular action or step that they’re going to take, and create a plan to follow up with each other on their progress. This partnering system can also help employees observe and model each other.

In order to create an effective social learning environment, look for ways to encourage group interaction, reminders/nudges, discussion, and accountability. Take advantage of the power of social learning and observe the impact it has on your employees’ learning and retention of new behaviors.

To learn more about how Udemy customer Lyft used social learning to launch a groundbreaking unconscious bias training, download a copy of the L&D Behavior Change Toolkit here.

About Udemy for Business:

Udemy for Business is a learning platform that helps companies stay competitive in today’s rapidly changing workplace by offering fresh, relevant on-demand learning content, curated from the Udemy marketplace. Our mission is to help employees do whatever comes next—whether that’s the next project to do, skill to learn, or role to master. We’d love to partner with you on your employee development needs. Get in touch with us at business@udemy.com

Top 10 Tech and Soft Skills Trending in 2019 thumbnail


Based on data from 30+ million learners on Udemy, here are the fastest-growing top 10 tech & soft skills in 2019

More from L&D Best Practices Topic

L&D Best Practices

How to Set Up a Successful Mentorship Program

Mentorship is a way of activating the highest potential of one another in the workplace. It creates opportunities for peer-to-peer...

L&D Best Practices

3 Sales Training Tips for Your Next Sales Kickoff Event

One of the things that’s so exciting about working with the sales team here at Udemy for Business is how...

L&D Best Practices

How Slack Promotes Social Learning at Work

At Slack, we define social learning as any learning opportunity, in any format, where the goal is to learn from...