The Tumblr Archives: My first ever post… Social learning in action (first published 19th Feb. 2012)

Social learning is the new ‘buzz’ in learning and development. The role of informal collaborative learning and the rise of social media tools have high currency in topical debates about how we learn. Understandably so, the ‘social’ is everywhere we turn. From following the unfolding events of last year’s Arab Spring to sharing our views on a favourite TV show, much of our lives are played out through social media.

So what difference is the ‘social’ making to how we learn? I’m with Charles Jennings and others who believe that learning has always been largely driven by the social. The truth is we’re all learning all the time, life is one long learning curve and much of that learning comes from those around us. There are plenty of facts, figures and theories about how much (or how little) we learn in formal settings like the classroom and most commentators agree it’s only around 10% of our overall learning. I certainly find that my best learning comes from others, engaging in discussion and sharing experiences. What’s different now is that social media tools, collaborative platforms and networked communities are providing us a new digital learning space. Forums, wikis, and virtual meeting rooms provide opportunities our parents never had to collaborate with and learn from each other. If you couple what you learn from the Internet with what you learn all the time from the people you work and live with, you’re starting to build up a powerful resource of shared experiences, new insights, and new skills.

Lots of people don’t associate this type of informal learning with ‘education’ mainly because we tend to think of training and learning with something that is done to us or for us in a classroom. But there is a whole world of possibilities out there, being driven by new technology, which lets us unleash our own potential – sharing our knowledge, skills and insights with colleagues and friends, whether they sit next to us in the office or thousands of miles away.

At NatCen Social Research our ‘23 things’ programme is linking up staff across the country in a collaborative project to learn more about new digital and social media tools. Working together, on and offline, our ‘digital networkers’ are sharing a powerful learning experience. By sharing new skills with each other and talking about our problems and successes we’re developing a better understanding of how we can use these new tools. Perhaps most importantly we’re learning to value each other as fellow travellers on a learning journey together. Social learning might not be that new, but our experience is that if we begin to value & support our informal learning communities we can surprise ourselves with where we end up!

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