What Social Learning means to Businesses

By Sean Gordon

Human learning has for centuries served as the catalyst behind revolutionary innovations and creative progress. Today, companies are actively incorporating social learning into corporate offices and development departments. With an improving economy, businesses are looking into social technologies to stimulate creativity, communication, and collaboration.

Recent statistics show:

  • Enterprises with at least 10,000 employees spent three more times on social tools than they had in the previous two years.
  • 73% of surveyed organizations aim to increase their focus on social learning over the next year.
  • 60% of companies want their employees to interact with learning tools on a daily or weekly basis.

But what exactly constitutes learning? How is it stimulated and what is the process?

What is Social Learning Theory?

One of the most widely cited psychologists in the world after Skinner, Freud and Piaget, Albert Bandura has transformed modern psychology. His pioneering work on social learning led to greater understanding of the acquisition behaviors, self- efficacy, self-regulation and moral agency. Honored with the Grawemyer Award in Psychology in 2008, he is regarded as the “greatest living psychologist”.

Albert Bandura integrated two theories to form his social learning theory:

  • Cognitive learning theory which believes that learning is influenced by psychological factors.
  • Behavioral learning theory which believes that one learns based on responses to environmental stimuli.

The four requirements of the social learning theory are:

1. Attention: The extent to which we are exposed to a behavior or notice a particular action. On a regular basis, we observe many behaviors. But only those actions that grab our attention and influence us into imitating them are relevant to learning.

Example: Observing high school friends experiment in drugs versus seeing a drug addict collapsed on the street

2. Retention: How accurately and intense is the memory of the behavior. An action may be taken note of, but if it is not always remembered, it prevents later imitation. Since social learning is a gradual process, even if a behavior is mimicked immediately after witnessing it, a memory is still required for future referral.

Example: Parents wear helmets when biking with their children, so that the latter may learn to do so even without parental presence.

3. Reproduction: The ability to demonstrate the witnessed behavior. There are many actions we may wish to imitate and dream of performing ourselves. But we are limited by our physical abilities, and as a result, we cannot reproduce the behavior.

Example: A 90-year-old lady who has walking difficulties watching ‘Dancing with the Stars’.

4. Motivation: The will to perform a behavior, keeping in mind the rewards and punishment that will ensue once the behavior is executed. If the perceived rewards outweigh the costs (vicarious reinforcement) than the behavior is more likely to be imitated.

Example: Children rewarded with pocket- money and movie tickets for doing household chores. Not doing chores entails punishment such as restricted cell phone, video games and TV access.

One of Bandura‘s most famous experiments on social learning is the Bobo Doll experiment. Three sets of 24 children (12 boys and 12 girls) were exposed to different scenarios. One group served as the control group. The second group observed an aggressive adult violently attack a Bobo doll with a hammer, or throw it in the air shouting “Pow, Boom!” The third group observed a non- aggressive adult playing in a quiet manner with a tinker toy set, ignoring the Bobo doll. Results showed that children in the second group displayed far more imitated aggressive responses toward the Bobo doll than those in the third group and control group.

How is Social Learning Beneficial?

Bandura‘s Bobo Doll experiment becomes all the more relevant in today’s world of social media. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr reveal our exhibitionist and voyeuristic side, and with every ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ every shred of information is easily distributed. How much of this information is needed, how much of is true, and how is it misconstrued? These are questions to study when companies combine social outreach and the digital platform, to increase brand value and attract potential customers.

Enhancing employee skill and performance is another incentive for businesses to incorporate social learning. A typical employee training session includes formal, instructor- led channels. Employees have to take time off from their regular duties in order to attend these training sessions, which if located off site, means additional costs for travel and lodging. Such orthodox training methodology does not lead to optimum learning. Research by Rusted and Coltheart shows that people remember only 58% of the material 30 minutes after finishing a training session. The number drops to 37% a week later.

Social learning supports continuous and on- demand training, with minimum disturbance to daily workflow. Whether it’s through searching wikis or coffee- machine chats, an employee avails of expertise when needed and quickly applies the information to a task. Since human beings are social animals, social learning helps them feel part of a group. This, in turn, creates a holistic work environment and fosters workplace collaboration.

What Are the New Trends in Social Learning?

1. Rise in Gamification

Adding the element of games makes learning fun. Successful language learning programs like Duolingo and Babbel have used games to make their applications attractive, particularly to millennials. In 2016, the gamification industry of eLearning surpassed $3 billion.

2. Sophisticated Social Tools

Creating a Facebook group for a company event, recording equipment installation on Google Glass, or participating in a Skype group chat; social learning tools allow knowledge to be shared easily and fast. All employees need is high- speed internet access, a laptop and a webcam to start sharing great insights and techniques.

3. Learning Management Systems

With 41.7% of Fortune 500 companies implementing some form of educational technology for employee training, the Learning Management Systems market is expected to be worth over $7 billion in 2018.

4. Mobile Learning

A study by Global Workplace Analytics shows that employees spend less than 50% of their working hours at their desk. Training programs recognize this, and use mobile learning applications like Geo- Location to reach employees no matter where they are located.

For more information on our unique video content management platform and training practices, please contact us.


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