What is social learning and how can you apply it right now?


Have you ever created a stunning learning portal fitted with great resources, only to find your team passing it over for all sorts of social collaboration tools? At Hubble Studios, the 2015 case study of SharePoint vs Slack is a clear example.

In a case like this, you have encountered social learning, in which people turn to more communications-based mediums to share and obtain knowledge with one another.

In a social learning context, people learn from other people, as well as from available resources. Learners can choose from a wide variety of these resources to suit their learning needs at a particular point in time.

Learning becomes collaborative and continuous, rather than prescriptive.

In order to adapt to this, we need to facilitate a learning experience that incorporates these ideas of fluidity, reactiveness and collaboration. It?s also important to realise that the way you’d like to teach people might not be the way people like to learn.

Here are just a few principles of social learning to help you leverage the larger variety of learning capacities that it offers.

  1. Opt-in learning

Rather than having portions of learning content delivered to the learner in a one-way flow of material, a social learning environment allows the learner to request materials that are most relevant to their current needs, and discuss these materials with other learners.

For example, a line manager may need to access information related to conflict resolution. They can request the latest resource most relevant to their needs, and discuss their situation with other line managers in the same community. In this way, learning is adapted for the learner, rather than the other way round, and learners function as learning facilitators for one another.

2. Fluidity

Fluidity in the context of social learning refers to the interconnected learning experiences (and transference of knowledge and ideas) between each member of the learning community, which then in turn may reinforce the learning experiences of the community at large. Members are able to access a much greater variety of learning resources than ever before, which is put forward by their peers who have identified relevant learning needs.

For example, a learner in a community of Small Business Entrepreneurship course learners may struggle with the process of business registration. Members of the learner community can then offer up insights and useful resources to assist this learner, whose shared experience then goes on to impact other members of the learning community with the same learning need.

3. Social accountability

Influential members of an online learning community can use social media platforms to share resources and useful insights. The more influential the learner perceives this person to be, the more likely it is that they’ll access the resources or make use of the insights.

For example, when our much-loved Head of Learning Design posts a resource in a forum for the learning designers she oversees, her influence (and the accountability the learning designers have to her) results in higher participation, which in turn facilitates knowledge gain or upskilling.

4. Rich learning from other sources

Course creators who use social learning communities to guide learners to resources outside of the learning management system ensure that these learners have a far richer learning experience. In addition, measurements of learner progress that take these extra resources into account offer a richer view than metrics taken purely from the LMS itself. This makes overall course metrics more nuanced and relevant.

In addition to enriching the learning experience, linking open education resources such as YouTube tutorials or MOOCs (massive open online courses) to your course allows learners to receive accreditation for on-the-job training that would carry weight outside of the course, and helps them to form networks with other learners using the same resources. A MOOC, or any other rich learning resource, becomes a node in a series of social interactions which in turn generates more discussion and resources sharing among learners.


Social learning is happening all around you. Are you making the most of it?