Corporate training and learning: the power of social learning

It is difficult to be successful when one is aware of the fact that  most people remember only 10% of the information learned . A 10% constantly threatened by the information overload and by the considerable amount of data generated and exchanged over time. A problem of attention or a learning problem? How do people learn, understand their mechanisms, remember and memorize all that is proposed?

Neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists and communicators have always tried to investigate what makes human beings capable of learning. Early behavioral theories (from Pavlov to Skinner and Thorndike) defined learning as the process by which  an activity is created or modified by reacting to a situation encountered or stimulated . Subsequently, the cognitivists, considering this statement not sufficient to explain the abilities of the human being, have defined learning as a cognitive process that takes place within a social context and  can take place through observation or education. direct . Hence the term  social learning .

Why speak, therefore, of Social Learning ? And why is it important to apply it in training contexts ?

1. Social learning has always belonged to us!

The theory of social learning is about to fulfill its sixty years of life. In 1960, the era in which behaviorism reigned supreme and learning was conceived as an exchange of information between an expert and his student,  the well-known psychologist Albert Bandura –  psychologist of Canadian descent and professor at Stanford University –   defined a ‘important theory, known as the theory of social learning or theory of learning by imitation . According to dear Albert, learning does not imply only the direct contact with certain objects or interlocutors, but it can also happen thanks to indirect experiences, developed with the observation of other people or models. Man, by his nature,  tends to imitate social models : through the observation and imitation of others he acquires behavior. His brilliant theoretical elaborations have allowed the development of practical methods, useful to improve the existing forms of learning.

2. Social learning VS individual learning

It is important to distinguish the ‘ learning  individual from  the social . The first refers to the ability to acquire new information as a result of direct personal experience with the environment, proceeding by trial and error. This type of approach is generally longer and more expensive in terms of time, resources and cognitive energies. Furthermore, by learning from one’s actions the subject is more exposed to errors and can only correct himself to the result achieved. In social learning, however, thanks to the interaction with their peers and the direct observation of behavior, the man learns faster by using less effort and energy.

3. Social learning and connection

The Social Network Sites have gained importance in our daily life since  a guy named Mark Zuckerberg had the idea of keeping people connected. Bring people closer together – said the day when Facebookwas born ( for a more in-depth look at the article on Facebook: between history and future). And although social networks such as Facebook were born primarily to allow people to connect and socialize, we should not be surprised if, today, these environments go from being a recreational tool to being a tool used for professional purposes. At the base is the idea that participation in social networks, interaction within groups, the online exchange of resources and information, can promote forms of informal learning , generated by the very fact of living or being on the network . It is not surprising then the statement of Siemens: learning means to stay connected  ( and what do social networks do? ).

The applications of social learning within organizations can be different in relation to the objectives set by the company itself and the desired results. If, on the one hand, the Social Networks can be seen as the suitable places for training and the tools useful to improve the processes of individual learning, on the other, it is very necessary to review the classical logic of learning itself and training and set aside traditional approaches and paradigms. As? Find out how to  innovate in-company training and what are the best methods and tools to do it!

Social Learning

The first studies on organizational learning borrowed from the behavioral psychology and cognitivist the concept of learning, making a transposition to the organization of the concepts elaborated at the level of the individual. Consequently, an analogy between the mind and the organization was elaborated, hypothesizing in the latter the presence of mental schemes and cognitive structures and identifying only the management of the functions of thinking and learning (Gherardi, Nicolini, 2004).

In this regard, a first epistemological hypothesis on learning is that which has studied it as a cognitive phenomenon, ie as a process that mainly involves the mental activities of the individual subject. In this sense, a definition of learning is affirmed “as a process that takes place in people’s heads or minds. This mentalistic conception of learning represents the continuation of the Cartesian tradition of the separation of body and mind and of the primacy of thought over the sensible world “(ibidem, p.29). It is implicitly admitted that both thinking dominates actions and that cognitive processing presides over any cognitive process by interpreting the mind as an information processor. It follows that learning can be studied in its individual dimensions and,

In these terms, learning has been relegated to formal places of education and therefore separated from work (usually the first precedes the second) (Gherardi, Nicolini, Odella, 1998).

In contrast to this line of research, a second survey track shows the phenomenon of learning to a more complex interaction and comparison between the individual activity of elaboration-construction of information and the social-organizational context of reference. This approach is part of a macroparadigma called socio-cultural constructivism (Varisco, 2002), which interprets “cognitive development and the articulation of learning and knowledge building processes as modeled by the cultural contexts in which they are produced, that provide them with constitutive and essential elements “(Striano, 2003, p.67).

This last position attests around the idea that learning can not be studied as an abstract phenomenon but as an expression of participation, of becoming a member of a community because for the transmission of knowledge, the acquisition of skills and the relational development identity become central social relations, the artifacts with which we learn, the quality of experiences and their significance, the activation of reflective thoughts. This means that first of all learning is located in the field of interaction and material conditions (Lave, Wenger, 2006). In other words, it is recognized that significant knowledge develops through participation in a practice, be it discursive or otherwise.

Studies that looked at learning as an individual phenomenon come to be questioned by the underlying hypothesis that learning is a phenomenon that intrinsically connects with a context in which it not only takes shape, but also entrenched in it. In this regard, the situated learning theory focuses on the social conditions of knowledge-building processes and attempts to overcome the separation / opposition between theory and practice, interpreting learning as an eminently social activity, and in this sense connoted more or less implicitly by political and ideological demands. The processes of knowledge building come to be enriched by readings that unmask its social and historical dimension,

In this sense, since the 1990s, there has been a change in the literature on individual learning that has given rise to the possibility of studying with different lenses the processes of learning and organizational innovation (White et al., 2005). Previously, the hypotheses about learning tended to favor explicit and abstract knowledge as the information acquired by individuals in the form of ideas, facts and concepts. In contrast, organizational learning and practice community studies (Wenger, 1998) have shown that learning outcomes can be identified in routines, dialogues, symbols, etc. (Blackler 1995).