Social Learning – Back to the Future?

Social media as a projection surface and support for social learning

If you believe the fans of Hollywood’s Back to the Future trilogy, we can expect famous time traveler Marty McFly to arrive on October 21st 2015. For Marty, the movie’s protagonist from 1985, our present is his future. You can join him in marveling at hoverboards and flying cars, but you’ll also notice that a lot of what 2015 has to offer is only new at first glance. The gas stations and cafés look futuristic, but they do the same job, just with different means. So, what would Marty think about social learning?


The social aspect of learning

Marty would think it was strange that in the year 2015, people are talking about having to make learning social again. Learning was already social back in 1985. The scientific community was well aware of this fact. In reality, we are rediscovering an aspect of learning that we forgot about amid the euphoria of Web 1.0 and CBT/WBT. We do not only learn from books and WBTs but also through interaction with other people.

Technology has once again changed how we understand learning. This time, it is the Web 2.0 and social media. The fact that social interactions are omnipresent and documented allows us to understand the social aspect of learning better than ever before. We learn socially more or less through conscious observation and imitation as well as through instruction and discussion in a group.

Given the comparative perspective of time traveler Marty McFly, it is worth asking: What do social media and social business software add to social learning? It is clear that social media tools have enormous potential to support social learning [1]. Of course, social media has not re-invented social learning. Firstly many organizations are learning without modern social media, and many are not learning despite using them[2]. Secondly the potential of single social media tools and their selection must be established based on each individual case when social learning is not intended to be a case of fauxial learning (Jane Hart)[3], a paradoxical force of free exchange that does not work.

An analysis of the current status of social learning is a necessary starting point to justify recommendation of specific social media tools.

Functions of social learning

Social learning is a key element of knowledge transfer, workplace learning, collaboration, and knowledge management. Social learning:

  • is one of the foundations for team building and innovation,
  • comments on training content, guidelines, rules, and changes and compensates for their deficiencies in everyday work life,
  • stabilizes the operational and organizational structure, as it takes place in flexible networks and is not tied to silos.

Organizations must ask themselves the following questions to be able to design social learning for the future in such a way that it can perform these functions:

  • To what extent do existing aspects of social learning need to be redesigned?
  • To what extent can social media be used as a tool to improve or supplement social learning?
  • Who can use the social media tools and who bears the responsibility for them?
  • To what extent do we need to relearn how we deal with these social media tools? Who can assume responsibility for training?

Social collaboration tools and social learning

Although it is always necessary to consider the individual case at hand, there are teams for whom social collaboration tools promise great potential. When it is necessary to complete knowledge-intensive work in cooperation, but you are not working at the same time or distance makes personal contact difficult:

  • The development team is spread out all over the world meeting only once a year and otherwise communicating via e-mail, as they do not have the time or bandwidth for online meetings.
  • The service technicians working on highly complex, yet largely identical systems around the world use a forum to exchange ideas with their colleagues about typical and tricky problems. Moreover, they create FAQs that involve a great deal of time, effort, and creativity.
  • The LearnChamp employees in Vienna and Munich can work together almost as if they were sitting next to one another despite the distance and frequent business travels.


When looking at all these factors one distinct question arises. Which means or systems cover all these scenarios? By now there is a variety of tools to help support social learning. Ranging from deeply integrated software like SAP Jam and Microsoft’s Yammer or the new kid on the block – Facebook at Work.

LearnChamp’s Learning Strategies Team is testing Totara’s new social collaboration tool Totara Social in order to cover the scenario previously mentioned. If you follow our blog, you’ll soon be able to read all about the different functions and functionalities.

You are experiencing a need in one or more functions of social learning in your organisation? We will help you to ask the right questions and to come up with a successful learning strategy.

[1] Hart, Jane: Social Learning Handbook 2014, 2014 (book);

Bean, Cammy: Going Social – let’s get this party started, 2012 (blogentry) [last accessed 25.02.2015]

[2] Hart, Jane: Social Learning Handbook 2014, 2014 (book)

[3] Hart, Jane: Social or Fauxial Learning, 2014 (blogentry) [last accessed 25.02.2015]