Strategically implementing collaborative learning can revolutionize the way your association members interact and learn.
A strong social learning program engages your members, provides value and sets your organization apart from others in the field. A full understanding of social learning helps you effectively implement the idea within your organization.
What Is Social Learning?
On a fundamental level, social learning simply means learning from one another. You absorb the knowledge of someone else, either through explicit instruction or observation. You learn how to behave from your community and your peers.
We use social learning to acquire skills on the job. For example, you may learn by observing a mentor or manager, remembering the practices they teach, and implementing those practices when you need to address a similar task or situation.
In the association world, social learning is a way for members to share knowledge with one another.
This peer-to-peer learning enables members to share ideas, collaborate on industry concepts, and come up with solutions to industry-specific problems. Compared to traditional higher education, social learning is informal; however, informal doesn’t mean less effective. Peer-to-peer learning is often more targeted because your members focus on the specific concepts they need to know.
People have learned from one another since the beginning of time. In fact, psychologist Albert Bandura gave the idea a name in the 1960s: Social Learning Theory. The theory looks at the way people learn from each other.
While social learning is nothing new, the technology used to facilitate social learning has changed over time. Historically, social group members have taught each other how to act within the group by spending time together. Coworkers mentored and trained one another in the office.
Now, association e-learning education software makes it possible to connect, share knowledge, and learn from other members anywhere in the world through integrated social learning. People can observe and learn from peers and colleagues even when they don’t work in the same office or live in the same country. The expanded technology, combined with a social learning feature, takes association social learning to a new level.
Why Online Social Learning
Social learning offers many benefits to associations. The technology available today makes social learning even easier, especially for organizations with members spread around the globe or associations with a boost in growth, as the technology can grow with you to accommodate a larger number of participants.
Consider these benefits of association e-learning education with integrated social learning features:
- Shared expertise. Gain significant knowledge through shared expertise that is not available outside of a social learning environment. People who work in the field every day have the best working knowledge of concepts, which makes them more than qualified to create the learning content.
Members of the learning and teaching community both benefit from this sharing of expertise. The learning community grows their knowledge of processes, while the educating community reinforces their understanding of the methods shared through instruction and questions from learning members.
The social learning concept also involves collaboration between members. That collaboration can generate new ideas or theories to test. Everyone can share their knowledge in this format. Anyone can be an expert and anyone can be a learner; those roles can frequently change throughout the course of social learning.
- Natural method. Social learning has been around forever, so it makes sense to harness that idea and use it to further your organization’s goals. People learn well with the social model. It is likely that your members already seek out learning opportunities from experts in the field. Formalizing the process of social learning in your association capitalizes on that instinct to look to peers and mentors for learning opportunities.
Social learning thrives on community. Fellow learners are available to answer questions and clarify confusing information. Peers can receive immediate feedback.
This open, back-and-forth communication encourages your organization’s leading members to challenge their existing thought processes in response to questions from the learning community. As a result, your organization will develop new and more innovative concepts to teach.
- Comfortable approach and setting. Some association members and learners don’t like to participate in traditional learning environments. Introverted members, for example, may feel hesitant or anxious about voicing their opinions or asking questions in an in-person setting.
Social learning online, however, creates a more collaborative, inclusive environment that encourages sharing. Participants may be more willing to speak up and share their ideas within this more anonymous learning format. Increased sharing sparks discussions and often generates great ideas that may not have come to light otherwise.
- Engagement and social sharing. Social learning is engaging, and when people interact with content, they’re more likely to understand and fully absorb it.
Members want to learn because the information is relevant and applicable to their lives. Additionally, when members are engaged in the material they consume, they often share that content with their peers. This action encourages other individuals to engage in their coursework and build their expertise. Such an environment may also draw non-members into the organization for the ongoing learning benefits.
Associations know that social learning is invaluable. Online social learning, however, revolutionizes not only how organizations teach or share knowledge among members, but it also revolutionizes their value to members by providing an accessible and innovative piece of technology online.
Why Social Learning Matters to Associations
People join associations not just to belong or to add to their list of qualifications — they look to associations for value and learning opportunities. They want to collaborate with other professionals who are also members of the organization to get the most out of the experience.
Social learning is your chance to add value for your current members and attract new members. Increased membership keeps your association active and thriving. You may be able to leverage new partnerships, thanks to your innovation in the social learning arena.
A formal social learning platform is the perfect way to give those members what they want, but it does more than satisfy a need to share knowledge. Social learning inspires innovative ideas in the field. People often turn to associations and collaborate with their peers to solve issues or improve the field.
Working together on an industry problem to improve the field is often much more productive than working alone. Social learning matters because it is effective. People like to share what they know, which is an effective way for others to learn something new. To ignore online social learning would be a missed opportunity for organizations and their members.
Your members are already likely sharing information online in an informal, grassroots way. They share links to relevant, informational articles. They talk about ideas they’ve used in their work. They chat around the water cooler, or when they socialize outside of work with their colleagues and peers. Social learning is happening, so making it a formal part of your association’s online learning is a smart move.
Social learning also keeps your organization up-to-date with the latest educational trends. Cutting edge social learning concepts will set your organization apart. If you aren’t engaging in these methods, other associations in your field likely are or will soon. If you implement your own formal online social learning program, you can stay competitive and give your members the most valuable experience possible. You will become a thought leader in your industry, which is an excellent way to expand your reach, strengthen your organization, and organically grow your membership.
How to Improve Social Learning in Associations
If you already use some types of social learning, evaluate your approach to make sure you provide the best possible platforms and learning opportunities to your members. An effective learning management system (LMS) with social features is crucial for successful social learning in the association space.
Whether you have a social learning program in place or are considering one, these techniques will help you implement one that engages and satisfies members:
- Use surveys. Assessing feedback is smart way to ensure your social learning program fits what members need and want. If you have an online social learning program in place, conduct a survey to see how members feel about it. Find out what they would like to change. If you don’t use social learning, create the survey to understand how members would like to see the concept implemented.
- Create an intuitive experience. A dynamic, intuitive learning platform is key to social learning that’s accessible, enjoyable, and useful for your members. You want a platform that keeps learners engaged and includes easy ways for them to interact with each other. Members also want a site that is navigable, with a clean presentation that makes it easy to find the desired content.
- Make it mobile-friendly. Facilitate social learning through a flexible platform. Learning never stops. Your busy members are constantly on the go, so it’s essential to have a dynamic platform that is compatible with mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones.
- Implement analytics. Online social learning platforms with integrated analytics let you track and evaluate how your organization’s members are learning and using the existing platform. Analytics also spare your members the effort of filling out additional surveys.
When you choose an intuitive, appealing, and mobile-friendly platform with the input of your members they are much more likely to engage in organized social learning.
Social Learning in Online Settings
The value of social learning is well-known among associations and members. The concept is more than 50 years old. Geography, however, makes social learning difficult because it requires everyone to meet in the same physical location.
Online social learning topples these difficulties by integrating into online association learning management systems that allow access from anywhere, even when members live nowhere near one another. Online communities facilitate peer learning and allow members to interact in real time, no matter where they are. As technology evolves, so do the possibilities for facilitating social learning online.
Where does your organization fall in the social learning arena? Do you already have peer-to-peer learning in place, or are you just starting to realize its potential impact on your members?
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