We’ve all heard the saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.” It’s taking the easy way out by speaking the words but not backing them up with action. But the value of backing one’s words up with action when training employees is immeasurable. It’s one thing to tell someone to do something; it’s an entirely different thing to exhibit that behavior as well. Want your sales network to care for your customers a certain way? Model that behavior to them so they know what it feels like to receive it. Then they can imitate that behavior when interacting with customers. In essence it’s changing the old saying to, “Do as I say and as I do.” This form of learning is referred to as social learning.

Renowned psychologist Albert Bandura proposed the social learning theory back in 1977. It’s the idea that learning can occur simply by observing the actions of others. He states, “Most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling; from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.”

Also known as observational learning, social learning has three different models, according to Bandura. The first is known as the live model in which a person demonstrates a behavior for others to learn. For example, if you want to train employees on how to use a certain ordering system, have an experienced employee sit down with them and walk them through the steps. Perhaps one of the most recognized forms of the live model of social learning is apprenticeship. Someone who is highly experienced at a certain trade mentors another who is just learning. As the apprentice observes the behaviors of the more experienced person, he or she is more apt to learn.

The second model and third models of social learning are more traditional forms of learning. The verbal instructional model is when a behavior is described to a student in detail and an explanation is provided as to how the student should engage with the behavior. Bandura’s third model of observational learning is the symbolic model, which uses real or fictional characters to display behaviors in books, movies, on television or through online media. 

Social learning can also include the use of social media when training employees. In this form of social learning, people are given an opportunity through social media platforms to share their work with each other rather than rely solely on formal training programs. Similar to an apprenticeship, learning via social media platforms allows those less experienced to learn from those more experienced. Tony Bingham, president and CEO of the Association for Talent Development, states, “Incorporating social learning creates networks of knowledgeable people to work across time and space to make informed decisions and solve complex problems. Learning happens more quickly and broadly. Innovation happens faster. And tacit knowledge can be retained and reused.” In this connected world, employees are already online, so to engage them in a social environment meets them where they already are in their lives. 

Establishing social collaboration tools is a great way to foster a culture of learning within a company. According to recruiter.com, 86% of employees said they are learning what they need to know for work by collaborating with others. A social learning environment particularly benefits those businesses where employees are spread throughout several locations. Providing learning opportunities helps connect employees and naturally raises engagement, which in turn benefits employee retention. Social learning also allows for quick changes to be made in the learning environment based on learner feedback. 

Social learning isn’t new, but businesses are increasingly turning to this kind of learning over formal learning when training employees. Whether it’s establishing online, collaborative learning environments, or modeling the behaviors that companies want their employees to exhibit, social learning has definite advantages. This is especially true when considering that with formal training programs, people forget 70% of what they learned in just one week and 87% in one month. So whether using social, collaborative learning environments, observational or modeling techniques, or other social learning methods, companies that foster participatory learning opportunities can significantly and positively impact employee learning and engagement.

Looking a training solution that will educate and inspire your team? Whether you need a virtual, in-person or blended solution, our instructional design experts apply the latest adult learning principles and technologies to make your training program a resounding success. Contact us today.