Deploying social learning in your organisation, this is how it’s done!

Rinke Huisman

Online and worldwide connectivity are increasingly becoming the norm. Digitalisation has made the possibilities to learn together, better known as social learning, infinite. A meeting with a colleague in Australia is simply arranged. Has corporate travelling always been overrated? A counter movement is that there’s more attention for the individual and human measures. In a big environment we easily feel uncomfortable, we prefer to maintain our contacts close to us. This globalisation provides various chances and challenges. 


Simply facilitating social learning is not the whole story. The world citizen wants to be seen and heard, but doesn’t want to get lost in the digital maze. In order to really create impact, you must steer towards meetings that will gain something for exactly that part of your organisation that needs change. We explain which forms of social learning exist and how you start establishing social learning in your organisation. 

How does social learning look?

Social learning can be found in the subject of an online hub or in a series of ‘face to face’ meetings. The context of social learning is thus very broad, but it’s always about bringing people together. 


When we zoom in further, you can recognise social learning also in the sort of questions you ask, in the engaging of a moderator, in a group core users that supervise certain preconditions, in creating a talent overview, in working in flexible teams, in connecting a group of innovators in a company or in supporting and triggering a group that doesn’t initiate movement easily. The choice is very diverse, but you need to do something. 

How do you start? 

It really isn’t necessary to first write a complete plan with objectives or to bind people to join this. View it as an experiment, you start with the people who dare to and want to. Look after a few weeks or months (dependent on the frequency) what has happened. Do people talk about it? Is there (more) interest? Are there perhaps already specific improvement points or new ideas?


Examples of social learning activities 

  • “Twice a year we organise a WOLWEEK (#workingoutloud). Our employees share on twitter, or on a separate channel at our intranet, their ideas, frustrations, questions, process and network. Actually, everything they want to share about their daily work.”
  • “During the DEELL festival we organise together with 3 alliance partners workshops for and by our employees. This way we interchange knowledge and expertise, a cross-fertilisation that strengthens us all.”
  • “We have a coffee machine lecture that is given by a different colleague every week. The lecture takes 10 minutes and technical devices and sitting are prohibited.”  

In line with these there are numerous ideas! 

How do you oversee a social learning activity? 

Are you planning on bringing a lot of people together, in form of a big online course? In that case the following moderating tips are very important. The success and the extent of the interaction will succeed or fail based on the creation of a safe online hub. The technical side must of course also be in order, but first about the social side: do people dare to express themselves? 

  • Everyone may be seen: the moderators value every contribution that’s provided. This can be done with a simple thank you or with a substantive reaction. 
  • Ask deepening questions: to stimulate the interaction the moderator mainly asks questions that delve further into the matter. They ask for examples, personal experiences or they ask for further connections. 
  • You aren’t the expert: moderators must realise that social learning isn’t a form of one-way communication where an expert talks and the recipients listen. Social learning is all about learning from each other. So don’t be the smartass, ensure that people aren’t judged for their contribution and start the conversation. 
  • Give the right example: a good example makes people follow in the same way, certainly online. Show how you want people to interact with each other. When you share interesting literature, for example, you’ll see that others will too. 
  • You can’t control everything: the moderator wants everything to go smoothly, but be aware that this isn’t always possible in big groups and also not desirable. You don’t need to have an important role in everything, provide people with a bit of freedom and ownership in their learning. Think beforehand which output you want to gain and design the social learning activity with that as a focal point. 

Is social learning measurable?

It remains a vague term, but managers quickly want to rely upon KPI’s and other measurable results. Still, the following points are decent indicators that really say something about the social learning level and the more general but not unimportant undercurrent in your organisation: 

  • Has the demand for social learning activities increased? 
  • Can people finish certain tasks quicker, or can they perform more tasks? 
  • Do people know each other and each other’s expertise better?
  • Is the behavioural change noticeable? 
  • It makes the invisible visible. Have you found out new things?
  • Are more things shared with each other? 
  • Is it more visible what people find (more) important? 

You could test these indicators among your employees at several stages. Evaluating the social learning experiment (beforehand, during and/or afterwards) is advised. Otherwise it will remain fingerspitzengefühl, but in the end you want to be sure if it’s of use. And perhaps you can write a plan after that!