The Real ROI of Informal and Social Learning

By Lorie Corcuera

“Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.”
—Dalai Lama

Over the past 30 years, I have witnessed the changes and shifts to our learning culture, and I still recall the days when encyclopedias were an essential resource for information discovery. Now with the Internet, if you want to learn to play a musical instrument, cook a new dish, or learn a different language, all you have to do is search online.

Social media and videos have also made learning more desirable. I remember the first time I watched the COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg’s TEDTalk on “Why we have too few women leaders” in January 2011. I was so mesmerized by TED.com and the whole concept of sharing knowledge through stories, I immediately shared the video on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Interestingly, although social learning has become mainstream, the long term impact is still not commonly known.

How Social Learning Works
Social or informal learning at a very basic level is learning through social connections and/or shared learning experiences through social media. For example, we may learn by listening to a podcast, a conversation during dinner with friends, receiving an email, reading a LinkedIn post, watching a live notification video on Facebook, debriefing a team project or receiving feedback from your Leader; the list goes on.

Our human race is more aware and awake than ever before and the way we interact with each other is constant. If we take a moment to pause and reflect on our day, we can literally break it down and notice what we learned throughout the day.

At a recent HRMA Learning and Development Roundtable, Kathleen Saddington Durston from Graycon Group shared a workshop on “DIY Training & Development”; she passionately encouraged the HR and learning specialists in the room to build learning cultures where team members and leaders actively share personal experiences and use various free online tools to complement their daily learning activities. Integrating learning into your day-today routine is the key to creating a culture of learning.

The Real ROI of Social Learning
Although at the surface level, social learning makes sense, I was still curious to learn the real ROI of this form of learning. I took it upon myself to gather qualitative data and ask other leaders, team members, and fellow leadership coaches and learning development enthusiasts to share their thoughts with me.

Six Key Benefits to Social Learning

1. Inspires curiosity: One of the key coaching principles is curiosity, which is simply being open to learning something new, and generally comes from having an interest in a particular topic. Social learning creates opportunities for you to be more curious through searching for information or to simply click on a video with an interesting title that catches your eye.

2. Builds courage to be vulnerable: The popularity of Brené Brown’s TEDTalks and books stems for her ability to share her own vulnerability even while being recognized as an expert in her field. Experts like Brown are committed to the act of learning. When you share your voice through writing a blog, posting a comment, or sharing a video or article, you are building your courage to be more vulnerable. You may still be attached to the responses but you took the first step to say “this is something that is meaningful to me and I want you share the experience with you”.

3. Strengthens empathy skills: Emotional intelligence and, more specifically, empathy skills are essential for great leaders and teams. When you can put yourself in another person’s shoes, you create a trusting bond and psychological safety. I recently shared on social media a Harvard Business Review article called “How Leaders Can Help Others Influence Them” that spoke about leaders creating opportunities to be influenced. Social learning encourages us to seek and reflect upon others’ opinions and take on new ways of thinking.

4. Creates human connection: Many will say that social media is not good for you. However, as with anything we experience in life, and in moderation, it can provide many benefits. Not only did I share that TEDTalk by Sheryl Sandberg online, I also shared it in person during a success circle session. We are still human and love sharing. Therefore, what we learn through social media or other means, will often lead to a powerful human connection—in the real world too.

5. Increases collaboration: When you start sharing online, what happens naturally is that those who are connected with you will begin to learn what you are most passionate about. You will create an online brand through the topics that are of strong interest to you and the knowledge and experience to share. With that expertise comes opportunities to collaborate. If people know this area is something that you love to be a part of, then they will likely want to engage with you.

6. Grows inspiring leaders: When you combine the competencies of curiosity, vulnerability, and empathy, you allow yourself to experience more meaningful human connections and collaborations. You inevitably grow through these experiences to be an inspiring and stronger human being and leader. The real ROI of social learning is naturally empowering and growing leaders throughout the organization, and building a human-centred culture and workplace.

Integrating Social Learning
The value of social learning is to be social all the time. Take the first step and try one or more of these inspired actions.

1. Start a daily learning habit or routine. The key is to be consistent. Start by reading one blog or article, watching a video, and/or listening carefully to other’s sharing their personal stories with you and do this daily. Start noticing the learning that surrounds you and take it all in.

2. Start sharing. Whether you share a new post, forward or re-post, or share a new thought or idea to someone verbally, just start sharing. The more you share, the more comfortable you will be with sharing and embracing the 6 benefits of social learning.

3. Reflect, learn and start again. By taking the time to pause and asking yourself what you are learning at this moment from a particular social media post or experience, you are making the learning real. You are not simply reading or experiencing, you are integrating the learning and bringing it to life.

Since that first TEDTalk share, I have created a daily habit of learning and sharing through social media that worked from the start. Case in point, that moment when I shared the Sandberg video with my success circle  inspired my now business partner of six years to share her vision for creating a company; as a result of her sharing, we collaborated and started SPARK Creations & Company Inc.

Proof enough? What can you do today to experience the benefits of social learning?

(PeopleTalk Fall 2016)

Lorie Corcuera is the co-founder and CEO of SPARK Creations & Company Inc., a training and development organization that inspires people and companies to create meaningful cultures and workpalce. sparkcreationsinc.com

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