What Is Social Learning and How Does It Make for Good Training?

By Sean Gordon

We like to think that our organization can provide enough training solutions for employees to be successful. However, because of the rapid release of new technologies, our knowledge workers are mostly behind; they’re fighting their way uphill on a fast-paced learning curve. They can barely adapt to a new technology or application before their job requires them to learn another one. In this post, we look at social learning theory and how it helps organizations. Then, we consider how organizations are applying this theory to new trends in employee learning because we believe that it has great potential.

What is Social Learning Theory?

The quickest way to understand social learning theory is that people can learn by watching other people. This requires the designer of a training program to create opportunities for vicarious learning. This theory consists of cognitive learning theory and behavioral learning theory. Cognitive learning theory involves psychological factors and behavior learning theory involves how people respond to stimuli from their environment. “Psychologist Albert Bandura integrated these two theories and came up with four requirements for learning: observation (environmental), retention (cognitive), reproduction (cognitive), and motivation (both).” This equates to a comprehensive approach to learning.

The Impact of Leaders

We can expect that social learning theory gets interpreted differently in each organization. However, there’s a word of caution that will inform the design of new training programs. A few years ago, Dr. Thomas G. Plante described how leaders can positively or negatively impact workers because their behaviors will be replicated“Therefore, you really do need to be mindful of the way you behave at all times (even while off duty) since you will be closely observed and your behavior and style will be replicated elsewhere.”

The Use of Videos and Online Coaching Programs

Two current training methods make great use of social learning theory. We like them because they are very cost-effective and integral to our business model. Essentially, the trainer who wants employees to learn new behaviors, including following policies and procedures and delivering customer service, will create a model. It’s easy, for example, for a trainer to create a series of videos that an employee can go to any device and watch when it is convenient for him. It’s also easy for a single trainer to connect with multiple employees (regardless of their work location) and to provide virtual coaching. In both models, the trainer can make herself available by a preferred means of communication (i.e. phone, email, instant message, text, or chat). She can post content and answer questions. When she and a specific employee must discuss an issue, they can use video conferencing, either in an online workspace or on Skype, Facetime, or Facebook Messenger.

The Future Has Many Possibilities

We like to think that trainers, whether working inside or outside of the organization, are in a great position to influence employee learning. The real issue with training in this fast-paced knowledge economy is determining what to teach and how to deliver it in the most efficient way. What some organizations lack is not the design of social learning opportunities for individuals and groups but a mechanism for trainers to follow up multiple times with trainees. They need ongoing support as they implement new learning.

Employers Must Be Realistic

Too many employers expect that employees will participate in a single training and then “know” everything they need. Employees don’t become experts at a task until they perform it multiple times. Training formats must give employees the chance to make mistakes, to receive corrective feedback, and to change their behaviors. After enough time has elapsed, they will feel more equipped to apply new skills to different situations.

We have more ideas on social learning theory and how it applies to the latest training models for knowledge-based organizations. For more details, please contact us today.

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