Social Learning

Social Learning

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Term2.png Social Learning

Originally derived from the work of psychologist Albert Bandura, social learning theory focuses on a learning occurring within a social context. In other words, it states that people learn with and from others through modeling, observational learning and imitation. Social learning takes place within a social group such as a work team, a class of students, a department, etc... According to the learning focus, the social group can be identified as a:

  • Community of practice, where professionals working in the same field share best practices and lessons learnt within the profession;
  • Learning community, where a group of people is working together to learn the same subject;
  • Professional network, where people either working in the same field or belonging to different professions ask questions or offer advice;
  • Personal network, where friends and family exchange more personal information.

In the theory, individuals that are observed are called models. For example, in society children are surrounded by many influential models, such as parents within the family, TV characters, friends within their peer group and teachers at school. Models are an important source for learning, and according to theory learning can occur following:

  • Live models, where an actual person demonstrates the desired behaviour.

E.g. students watching their parents reading;

  • Verbal instructions, where an individual describes the desired behaviour in detail and instructs the participant in how to engage in the behaviour.

E.g. students watching a teacher solving a mathematics problem on the blackboard;

  • Symbols, where modelling involves a real or fictional character seen through media (movies, television, Internet, radio).

E.g. students watching a short video with fictional characters about the recycling process.

There are four conditions necessary for an individual can successfully model the behaviour of someone else:

  • Attention; for an individual to learn something, they must pay attention to the model;
  • Retention; the observer must be able to remember in order to later reproduce the behaviour;
  • Reproduction; the observer has to be able to replicate the behaviour that the model has just demonstrated;
  • Motivation; an incentive driving the observer’s reproduction of the behaviour.

See also: Learning Styles, Social Constructivism, Social Media


Implications of social learning on education

  • Students often learn by observing other people;
  • The adoption of new behaviours can lead to class discussion where students talk about the rewards and consequences of this behaviour;
  • Teachers must model appropriate behaviours;
  • Teachers should expose students to a variety of other models;
  • Teachers should encourage a sense of self efficacy in students. People are more likely to engage in certain behaviours when they believe they are capable of executing those behaviours successfully.
  • Teachers should help students set realistic expectations for their accomplishments.

Manifestations of Social Learning

Social learning represents either simple or complex learning processes and mixes well with other forms of learning. This can be seen in the following manifestations of social learning:

  • Open discussion resulting in feedback from other learners;
  • Dialogue with a teacher, expert, coach…;
  • Collaboration on a single project, involving contributions from different team members;
  • Group activities performed by a team rather than individuals;
  • Discussions embedded in other forms of e-learning;
  • Individuals learning to function as members of a team by developing abilities to collaborate, share information and motivate others;
  • Team learning where a group learns to function as a unit. [1]

Toolkit.png Designing Social Learning

Steps in designing effective social learning

Social learning requires effective design to engineer social processes such as interactions, collaboration and sharing. All social learning activities require at least two people and occur as a result of the feedback received. Designing effective social learning requires the following steps:

  • Define the objective(s)

Social learning works well in some situations but not always. Moreover, it can be combined with other forms of learning. The designer should be aware of strengths and weaknesses of social learning and use it appropriately in order to: - refine ideas through discussion; - provide social interaction and make work less lonely; - provide emotional support to learners; - facilitate decision making processes; - build teams; - implement learning quickly and inexpensively, because it does not require creating interactive content and delegates much of the management of learning to learners themselves; - build lifelong learning since it helps the creation and growth of networks.

Another important aspect is clarifying whether the objective is to learn something specific, or to improve social skills and enhance team capabilities.

  • Define the target

It is important to identify the exact group you will educate

  • Define the expert

The designer should ensure that an expert is available and gets the learners through social interaction. This expert can be a teacher, experts or from the learners collectively.

  • Define pre-requisite skills for learners

Social learning requires certain abilities, attitudes and competences, including: - Communication abilities: Reading and writing knowledge of the language used in discussions, messages, material Speaking and listening knowledge of the language used for interactions Ability to ask questions and produce concise answers

- Attitudes: Openness to new and better ideas Acceptance of criticism Spirit of cooperation Work ethic

- Competences: Basic knowledge of the field of inquiry or special social skills to share with others Ability to use social media tools

  • Define pre-requisite skills for the organization/environment

The environment in which learning takes place must meet some requirements for social learning to succeed. These requirements include: - A Culture of sharing - Lateral communication, as opposed to hierarchical/authoritarian communication - Flexibilty and adaptation - Information security - Legal security

  • Define social activities that best achieve the objective

The designer should specify activities according to the pattern of interaction to be achieved. Here a list of the main ones:

- Tutoring interaction: an expert and learner interact on a one-to-one basis Tools: In person, email, text, phone call, video conference When to use: Coaching, counselling, Mentoring

- Presentation: one person directs information to others Tools: Face to face meeting, Video conference When to use: Announcements, live presentations, lectures, speeches, demonstrations

- Question-and-answer: learners ask an expert questions Tools: Email, texting, chat, discussion forums, phone calls, video conferencing, micro blogging When to use: Organized or sporadic sessions

- Post-and-comment: an expert, teacher or facilitator posts a message and learners comment on it Tools: Discussion forums, blogs When to use: To provoke discussion, make assignments and collect results within a course

- Collaborative work: learners work together to create and refine a document or piece of work Tools: Wikis, collaborative authoring tools When to use: Teaching subjects as writing, visual design…

- Group discussion: learners interact with one another Tools: Chatting, video conferencing, discussion forums When to use: To refine ideas, correct misconceptions, and get feedback

- Panel discussion: experts discuss a topic as learners watch and listen Tools: Live presentation, video-audio podcast. When to use: Panel discussions, debates, interviews, role playing

- Symposium: a group of experts discuss a subject with learners Tools: Audio-video conferencing, online meeting tools When to use: Extended question-and-answer sessions

- Ask- expert community: the learner consults a community of experts Tools: Discussion forum When to use: Answering advanced questions, getting professional advice

- Ask-peers: a learner consults a group of which he is a member Tools: Discussion forums, social networks When to use: To ask questions of relevance for the community

  • Write the rules

The designer should set up policies, standards and procedures that guide social interaction

  • Set grading criteria

The designer should set how the learners’ performance will be rated and if group performance will be considered over individual performance.

  • Monitor and guide social learning

The designer should set model standards of behaviour and coach social interaction

  • Specify technical requirements

The designer must ensure that the technology enables the type of interaction needed.

  • Design templates for learners

The designer should produce some guidance to assist learners in producing content such as slides, video clips…

  • Specify social learning components in other forms of learning

Specify the existence of social learning components in other forms of learning such as face-to-face, e-Learning, mobile learning…[2]

Job Aid

Pdf.png Designing Social Learning.pdf

Link icon.png Web Resources
Find below additional information and resources.
Link Content
Social Learning Handbook 2014 E-book on social media tools and systems for social learning, including a smart worker's guide to social media.
Social Learning resource Here are some of the resources mentioned in the 2011 edition of the Social Learning Handbook.
What Is Social Learning (And Does It Work)? Social media is now a tool to learning. Social learning includes gamification, peer feedback and review, ranking, and awards to engage students in the material and learning process. This article explains more about the new trend, and shows it in an Infographic!
How To Use Facebook For Social Learning This article highlights the potential of Facebook for effective social learning through 10 steps.
10 Tips To Effectively Use Social Media In Formal Learning An article to learn how we can increase the effectiveness and longevity of formal learning, stimulate the engagement of learners and enhance the social aspects of learning through the use of social media.
Pinterest Board on Social Learning


Check out Click4it's Pinterest Board on Social Learning and discover more about Social Learning!


  1. September 2012), September 2012), September 2012), September 2012), September 2012), September 2012), W. Horton, E-Learning by Design, 2012, Pfeiffer, pp. 399-414 (19 December 2012)
  2. W. Horton, E-Learning by Design, 2012, Pfeiffer, pp. 399-414 (19 December 2012)