The 3 C’s of social learning for associations will help you decide what approach works best for your association members when incorporating social learning into the design of education programs.
What is Social Learning?
Like many individuals and organizations in modern society, associations maintain social media profiles for sharing content of interest to their members. Social media is a part of social learning and extends opportunities to connect with the wider member community, but social learning does not just consist of sharing content to social media. Many people assume that social learning emerged with the development of social media, but this is not the case.
In the 1970’s Albert Bandura developed Social Learning Theory, which states that learning occurs in a social context when the learner observes and then models a behavior. When applied to association education programs, social learning theory seeks to reinforce knowledge while encouraging peer-to-peer communication, debate, critical thinking and development of leadership skills. More recently, social learning theory has been seen in the growing trend for gamification of learning in elearning, where educators seek to motivate and reward learning with digital badges or leaderboards.
Social Learning Theory builds on some ideas first introduced in social development theory by Lev Vygotsky in the 1920s. Vygotsky’s theory emphasizes the fundamental role of social interaction in the development of cognition, outlined in this article. Vygotsky believed that community plays a central role in the process of "making meaning”, as interaction with peers provides an effective way of developing skills and strategies. He suggests that skills that are too difficult for the learner to master on their own can be mastered more effectively with guidance and encouragement through interaction with a more knowledgeable person.
How is Social Learning relevant to Associations?
The key purpose of an association is to bring together people with similar interests, skills, or careers, allowing them to connect and engage with a supportive community of peers and share information and experience. In this way, associations have been providing social learning opportunities for their members since long before social learning became associated with social media that enables people to connect and communicate online. Being able to connect with peers, discuss challenges, and have a forum for conversation improves learner engagement among association members, whether the learning is on or offline.
There is much informal social learning that takes place by networking with peers at conferences, communicating shared experiences and best practice with each other. But how do you provide more formal social learning experiences for members in your education programs?
The 3 C's of Social Learning for Associations
We know that creating content that is relevant and engaging is a challenge many associations face in encouraging members to continue their professional development. Whether you are creating content for in-person or online delivery, it is possible to incorporate elements of social learning.
The first step in creating content is to define what learning objectives and outcomes you wish the learner to have achieved on completion. Michael Towse highlights this in a post for Learning Solutions Magazine: “The most important aspect of e-Learning development (or any training intervention for that matter) is defining the right learning objective. An ineffective learning objective will result in an unsuccessful training module, despite all the subsequent hard work, time, and effort.”
To create content that incorporates a social learning aspect, you must make it clear to the learner that achievement of the defined learning objective is the desired outcome, but you also need to consider how you can provide a social context to the learning environment. For example, you might think about how you can encourage the learner to connect with and work with their peers. This may depend on whether your courses include in-person sessions, such as conferences or classroom learning, or if most of the learning takes place online through your LMS, because your members are geographically dispersed.
Social learning could be incorporated formally, for example with a group project assessment or structured mentoring program, or less formally with an online discussion group to provide a forum for conversation with fellow learners following a webinar or conference. You may wish to curate content from social media on the topic and share to the online discussion group in your LMS to extend the opportunity for learning and add relevancy that will encourage learners to engage with the topic in a new way? Perhaps you could also motivate participation in discussion groups with digital badges as a reward for meaningful contributions? Some associations incorporate social learning by designing blended learning content, which includes an eLearning course combined with face-to-face sessions to encourage group discussion and reflection on the online content.
Associations are already providing opportunities for members to connect with and learn from each other in a number of ways, for example through conferences or social media networks. Associations hold conferences and regional meetings to enable members to connect with their peers, industry leaders, and subject matter experts. These events are valued highly by members, however, these events offer the opportunity to connect only a few times each year, depending on scheduling and members’ ability to attend. Various technologies, including learning management systems, can help to bridge the time between events, by enabling members to connect online. Opportunities to connect with content and peers for more formal social learning can easily be increased with the introduction of online education programs:
- Associations that have traditionally only provided education through conferences could consider moving to online course delivery to provide more opportunities for a wider audience of members to connect and engage with their educational content.
- Some associations also provide access to eLearning for non-members, which introduces different perspectives and social contexts in discussion of course content, and leads to more opportunities for social learning from peers.
- For associations delivering education programs online, they can encourage learners to connect with each other by encouraging purposeful conversation through focused channels of communication, such as discussion forums linked to courses, seminars, webinars or other learning events, which are accessed in the LMS, for example.
- Many associations are providing mentoring programs, enabling more experienced members to share their experience and provide guidance to younger members. Mentoring is a great example of how social learning can be beneficial for associations and their members.
Many LMS also provide the ability to share content to social networks, and learners may also choose to share offline content to social networks, thus extending the formal conversation to a more informal social network for further discussion. eLearning Industry has some tips on how to encourage meaningful online discussions, which should help to keep the extended social conversation focused on learning.
Associations can provide opportunities for learners to engage more deeply with the content and each other by encouraging group collaboration. As noted by Vygotsky, collaborating with peers is essential for learners to “make meaning” of the content they are engaging with. Collaboration enables learners to share their understanding with each other, and to work together to solve a problem or achieve a goal. In the process of doing so, they often learn from each other, and enrich each other’s interpretation of the content.
This may be as simple as providing discussion forums linked to LMS course content to enable focused communication on learning objectives by a smaller group of registered attendees of online courses, which is then shared in a subsequent session. The instructor may provide some questions to guide the conversation, to ensure learners maintain focus on the objectives. This enables better understanding of the subject matter and the opportunity to learn from the experience of their peers.
Collaboration can also be made an integral part of the learning experience in online or offline courses by introducing a group project as part of the assessment process. This requires learners to work together for problem solving and share experience and knowledge to achieve a common goal. The group may even be asked to present their project to the rest of the class, communicating what they have learned and offering the class group an opportunity engage in discussion and debate, which leads to a further social learning experience.
Social Learning is more than just social media. We'd love to help you increase the relevancy and appeal of your association education programs to members by incorporating opportunities for meaningful social learning. Let us show you what you can achieve with TopClass LMS.