Enhance Your Blended Learning Strategy: 5 Social Learning Tips

Melissa Suzuno

HR and L&D Insights Writer, Udemy for Business

June 25, 2019

Blended learning is not a new concept, but new digital technologies are redefining blended learning experiences for the modern learner. While in the past blended learning programs meant combining the best of classroom and online learning, today, blended learning experiences mean layering classroom learning and online learning with a wide variety of digital technologies and L&D practices. 

While this reimagined concept of blended learning has emerged, the distinct but related practice of social learning has also gained popularity. Let’s explore some of the innovative ways companies are including social learning in their blended learning experiences.

Want to do a deep dive on blended learning? Download our eBook, “Reimagining Blended Learning Experiences: 8 Best Practices from Leading Companies.”

What is social learning?

The Society for Human Resources Management defines social learning as “the collection and sharing of information learned from peers and from social media.”

It’s well known that 75% of the informal learning that occurs in the workplace is due to this type of peer-to-peer or social learning. While learning from mentors or coaches on the job is not new, the proliferation of new social media tools and online discussion forums has amplified this type of learning in the digital age. In fact, according to the 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report from Deloitte, 32% of companies are becoming more team-oriented and connected with social media to keep up with a more digital, diverse and social technology-savvy workforce. And the Chief Learning Officer Business Intelligence Board found that 75% of surveyed L&D professionals have adopted—either fully or to some extent—social learning technologies into their learning strategy. Here are five social learning tactics to consider including your blended learning offering.

Social learning tactics to include in your blended learning programs

1. Combining classroom and social learning

Traditional classroom learning experiences can also be social learning experiences when they’re designed to promote teamwork and collaboration. The 2019 Human Capital Trends Report explains, “As teams become more important in the delivery of more types of work, organizations will offer learning opportunities that support individuals as members of teams, providing content and experiences specific to the context of a worker’s team.

At large or rapidly growing organizations, classroom learning provides a chance for employees to get to know their peers and learn from them. Ariel Hunsberger, Head of L&D at Slack, explains: “Our in-person trainings are not only a learning opportunity but also a social and team-building opportunity. A huge draw for our learners is the chance to meet other team members and hear about what their peers are doing and learning. As a result, we build in plenty of time for discussion and hands-on learning so employees can interact with each other. Getting to hear a talk by an expert will draw a good audience, but the chance to meet peers and understand their work is an even bigger incentive.” See 4 Lessons for Building a Learning Culture from Slack’s Head of L&D.

Some companies, like KPMG, are intentionally creating group learning spaces that will facilitate social learning. Their new learning center “is designed to promote positive learning behaviors like reflecting on what you’ve learned and networking with colleagues.”

2. Group mentoring

Companies that have a cohort of employees going through the same curriculum can use a group mentoring program to provide a sense of community and support. For example, Publicis Sapient, a business strategy and technology consulting firm, created a blended learning AI Academy to upskill their consultants in key artificial intelligence (AI) and data science skills to help win new business.

Ian Stevens, Capability Development Lead at Publicis Sapient North America says, “Our L&D team believes there is no one right path to learning. Employees might have a 5-minute break or allocate a 2-day slot to learn. To fit the busy modern learner, our L&D team looked at every possible way to provide training and then blended them all together.”

Publicis Sapient’s AI Academy provided a structured program with formal employee commitment that is tied to hiring and staffing of roles at the company. To address a geographically dispersed workforce, the L&D team created a blended learning AI Academy that included online Udemy for Business courses built into learning paths in key AI and data science skills.

They tapped internal leaders to serve as a “group mentor” for an AI Academy cohort. The group mentor holds “office hours” and serves as the go-to person for advice. Group mentors offer interactive webinars on use cases specific to Publicis Sapient and moderate online social forums for employees to discuss ideas or share articles.

Finally, as part of their AI Academy, they also offer community roundtables to reinforce learning in person. Their L&D team created a timeline that was not too burdensome on work/ life balance by formally allocating 3–5 hours per week for learning and non-billable time. The result? The AI Academy was able to upskill their workforce in key AI and data science skills and help consultants win new business growth. To learn more about Publicis Sapient’s approach to blended learning, watch the on-demand webinar Learning at the Speed of Business.

3. Scalable coaching

There are a number of ways L&D leaders are incorporating coaching into the blended learning experience. This might involve layering social learning and one-on-one coaching post-classroom to reinforce learning on the job and ensure behavior change occurs. Or, it might be offering coaching in a more scalable and affordable way by leveraging internal group mentors, video-based meetings, and coaching tools to ensure outcomes are achieved.

For example, Lissa Minkin, VP, People & Workplace at Tile, is building a “one-size-fits-one” approach to learning, incorporating online learning platforms, 360 tools, and individualized coaching. Lissa explains, “We’re getting to a place where it makes more sense to take a “one-size-fits-one” approach, rather than the “one-size-fits-all” approach we’ve seen in the past. New technologies facilitate one- size-fits-one learning because they help us identify individual needs and enable us to provide personalized learning at scale.”

After identifying skills gaps she sees in aggregate across all the 360 assessments, Lissa will create learning modules around these recurring topics and themes. Lissa plans to use Zoom as a virtual classroom where employees can join sessions led by her or other experts. The second part of the program will involve punctuating learning with individualized coaching. The coaches should be familiar with the employee’s specific skill gaps and what they’ve already learned as a cohort. This approach means employees can get one-on-one support, but it won’t be as costly or time-intensive as traditional individual coaching. Lissa says, “I believe this scalable one-size-fits-one approach can help accelerate learning and behavior change on the job.” Read more from Lissa in Tile’s VP of People & Workplace on One-Size-Fits-One (Not All) Learning.

4. Cohort-based social media forums

Cohort-based social media forums like Slack, Facebook Workplace, or Microsoft Yammer can be used for asking questions, discussing issues, and sharing articles. According to Chief Learning Officer, “The ability of social learning technologies to provide on-demand access to real-time discussion, training, support and expertise, as well as foster on-the-job learning through communities of practice, make them a valuable asset and well worth the effort to gain buy-in on their behalf.”

Many companies are already making use of these tools. It’s not too surprising, for example, that employees at Slack turn to their own tool to share ideas and resources. According to Ariel Hunsberger, Head of L&D at Slack, “Slack can also serve as an online social channel that keeps the learning conversation going post-training and lets employees recommend relevant courses or articles to their peers, and ask each other for advice long after the in-person workshop concludes.”

Cohort-based social media forums can also be used to build and promote a culture of learning when executives or other leaders share their learning experiences via these channels and model this behavior to other employees.

5. Chatbots

According to Chief Learning Officer, chatbots will be one of the biggest trends in learning in 2019. Fueled by AI but programmed and controlled by L&D, chatbots have the potential to connect employees to the information and resources they need. The major difference between chatbots and other information sources like online search, according to eLearning Industry, is that chatbots “can ensure that it’s the right information, targeted and personalized for the person looking for it. The data is placed in context, right for your organization’s employee. So instead of endless ways of doing, you access the right one for the right time and place.”

Chatbots can be accessed at any time and place, which means they could be extremely helpful with distributed or remote workforces and they can be easily integrated into an employee’s workflow.Having learners interact with chatbots periodically over time can improve retention and application of new knowledge and skills, argues Vincent Han, Founder and CEO of Mobile Coach in a Training Industry article. Han has observed high engagement and follow-through with employees who have engaged with chatbots post-training.

The advances in technology and the rapidly evolving needs of the workplace mean that the blended learning landscape has completely transformed in recent years. The social learning tools and tactics we’ve explored here can enhance your blended learning experience and build a learning culture at your organization. Download our eBook, “Reimagining Blended Learning Experiences: 8 Best Practices from Leading Companies” to learn more.

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

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