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Tim Cliffe - Blog

Integrating Social Learning and Formal Learning

01 Target Audience

(01.1) Anyone involved in e-Learning, social learning commissioning, Design, and related roles.

02 Executive Summary

(02.1) Much is made of Social Learning and many theories are offered, however, Social Learning has been taking place almost since life began. Every pup, cub, foal, kitten, baby, and all the other little-ones started their journey through life by learning socially. It appears, to me, we already have experts to learn from.

03 Structure of this Article

  1. 04 Definitions
  2. 05 Introduction
  3. 06 Let's Get Back-to-Basics
  4. 07 Work Life Examples
  5. 08 The Part that is Always Overlooked
  6. 09 Conclusion

04 Definitions

(04.1) Firstly, I will define social learning as being within the context of e-learning, and describe this as On-line Social Learning (OSL).

05 Introduction

Image of logos of various social media sites.


(05.1) I have read much of social networks, such as Twitter and Facebook, and various writers describing these as examples of social learning. Is this a lax use of language, or are they to be taken literally? I trust it is not the latter.


(05.2) Learning may well take place via such networks but that is, largely, an unintentional consequence of their use. They are, in the vast majority of instances, used, and accurately described, as Social Media.


(05.3) The phenomenon of OSL is new, we (in the e-learning community) have not had access to such facilities before, and many are asking the question ‘What is Social Learning?’ as a means to generate discussion and find ways of exploiting social networks to integrate effective OSL into e-learning.


(05.4) Many discussions, not surprisingly, walk the path of social learning theory, gaming theory, and all manner of other intellectual highways. There is nothing wrong with this, but I fear we are doing what we always do in such circumstances.


(05.5) We humans love to make things complicated, to take every opportunity to exercise and show-off our knowledge and to be seen to be in-tune with the latest fashion.

06 Let's Get Back-to-Basics

(06.1) What is social learning? I understand the theory, but somehow that doesn’t really help with actually doing it, especially on-line. Where can I see it in action? I’m human, I understand best by seeing it happen for real.”

06.1 Toddler

(06.1.1) No, it’s not a new software. Toddler is human, about a couple of feet tall, and tends to fall over quite a lot. If you don’t have one of your own, a friend may let you borrow one.


(06.1.2) Toddler is one of the original ‘back-to-basics’ practitioners of social learning. Of course, most species have their version of Toddler, but I will limit discussions to the human variant.


(06.1.3) Now, Toddler will not have just completed some e-learning and then have been skilfully supported to engage in OSL to support and embed their learning in the workplace, and, coincidentally, contribute to learning evaluation and review. That’s not the point, Toddler is amazing at social learning that is the point.


(06.1.4) Toddler does not ask itself ‘What is social learning?’ Toddler just gets on and does it. So, watch the expert, for a few hours, best if it can be for a few days, you will also have a lot of fun while working. Actually, you may have some icky smelly moments, at which point you need to engage another social learning expert, closely associated with Toddler, known as a Mum.

06.2 Mum

(06.2.1) The good news is, typically, Mum comes pre-installed with Toddler.


(06.2.2) It is a good idea to watch how Mum collaborates with Toddler in social learning. This tends to be an innate skill of Mum, however, levels of competence may vary, so be prepared for various behaviours.


(06.2.3) Behaviours to lookout for:
  1. Mum: Repetition of behaviour and/or phrase (which is directly related with the behaviour), but crucially, in context;
  2. Toddler: Learns to associate/practice Mum demonstrated behaviour with the phrase/required Toddler response in context;
  3. Toddler: If learning is not established, the feedback from Mum results in Toddler encouraging Mum to further repeat behaviour or phrase by making Mum-friendly responses;
  4. Mum: Always available to provide convenient reaffirmation of behaviour or phrase;
  5. Toddler: Is provided with sufficient feedback from Mum to recognise when behaviour or phrase is being performed correctly.
(06.2.4) But how does that help me to effectively integrate OSL into my e-learning programme?”

07 Work Life Examples

(07.1) Firstly, I will assume you have produced wonderful e-learning, which has not simply dumped the trainer’s notes on the web, but has in fact mapped content to curricula objectives, and addresses the required change in learner behaviour. The e-learning also supports the ‘ideas’ given below. The learner has accessed the e-learning for the first time.

07.1 - 1. Mum: Repetition of Behaviour or Phrases in Context

Image of a small child in a bear costume.


(07.1.1) Instead of Mum, this could be our good friend, the workplace aide memoir. This could be the notice above the sharps bin in the hospital ward that reminds the worker of the main points for consideration. The aide memoire could also include:
  • The URL to the relevant e-learning;
  • A QR code of the URL, to allow access via a mobile device;
  • The dedicated Hash Tag for use on Social Media.

07.2 - 2. Toddler: Ability to Recognise when to Practice Behaviour or Phrase in Context

(07.2.1) The learner should have seen the aide memoir in the e-learning and been informed of its location and function, and is, therefore, immediately recognisable.

07.3 - 3. Toddler: Option to Encourage Mum to Further Repeat Behaviour or Phrase by Making Mum-Friendly Responses

(07.3.1) The learner can:
  • Note the URL and re-visit the particular part of the e-learning relating to the aide memoire/task;
  • Scan the QR code with a mobile device and access the e-learning;
  • Use the dedicated Hash Tag to ‘join the conversation’, perhaps helping to identify improvements to a practice.

07.4 - 4. Mum: Always Available to Provide Convenient Re-affirmation of Behaviour or Phrase

(07.4.1) The learner has permanent access to the aide memoire and may not need to go on-line. Alternatively, the learner may go on-line to confirm learning at that moment to ensure standard of performance.

07.5 - 5. Toddler: Is Provided with Sufficient Feedback from Mum to Recognise when Behaviour or Phrase is being Performed Correctly

(07.5.1) Senior staff can:
  • Recover reports of e-learning use and access methods (QR code use can be tracked);
  • Follow Hash tagged comments on Social Media;
  • Refer to in-house controls that report on the standard of performance in monitored functions.
(07.5.2) All the above can be used to both evaluate and review the e-learning and the behaviour of learners pre- and post- exposure to the learning.

08 The Part that is Always Overlooked

(08.1) Those of us who have worked in the industry will know how little review and evaluation, of digital learning, takes place.


(08.2) In a similar vane, the opportunities presented by Social Learning, to inform practice, are often overlooked. Where Social Learning facilities are combined with formal learning, there needs to be:
  • A dedicated and recognised role, within the workplace, to monitor work-related social learning/media activities;
  • A formal and effective method for analysing such activities;
  • A mechanism by which proposed improvements to practice are identified and highlighted for consideration;
  • A commitment to feedback, into the organisation's learning system, identified and implemented improvements and ensure they are seen to be acted upon.
(08.3) One of the greatest motivators to continuous improvement is to ensure contributors know their suggestions are considered and where appropriate, implemented.

09 Conclusion

(09.1) So, there you have it, and you thought I was mad for engaging Toddler as an e-learning consultant.


(09.2) If you are not sure what to do, go back-to-basics, and find a common-sense expert. Remember to be open-minded and don’t allow doctrine to overly cloud your judgement. As the Buddha said ‘everything is teaching us’.


(09.3) Be open to the metaphors that can be found in most things. I hope Toddler and Mum give you more ideas.

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