In 1977, Albert Bandura developed the Social Learning Theory originally to explain socialization and the overall development of the self. Where it has become the stuff of Instructional Design is that Bandura's social learning theory proposes that people can learn new information and behaviors by watching other people and not just through rote memorization, forced conditioning or reward/punishment.
"Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action."
-Albert Bandura, Social Learning Theory, 1977
Known as observational learning (or modeling), this type of learning is played out in every aspect of personal and professional life. As instructional designers, many of us still use traditional learning methods without considering social or informal learning. Why? Because it’s hard to measure…and aren’t we guided by measurement or ROI? Not only that, but it happens everywhere and is hard to control…almost an intangible.
Here is the real nightmare-you’ve just designed an eLearning module or instructor-led training course that, you know in your heart, is award-winning. You’re in all of the trade journals as “Instructional designer of The Year.” The analysis was done thoroughly. You drained all SMEs of their knowledge. It’s organized, interactive, engaging. The assessment really drives home the objectives and learning outcomes. Positive “smile sheets” abound as the audience leaves well educated and ready to produce. And it all unravels the moment these polished diamonds hit the floor. And it all starts with their “cubical colleagues” saying, “Ignore everything you’ve learned…here, this is the way I do it…watch me.”
Here are a few ways to create and capture social learning…and then let it go:
1. People learn through observation. It’s not your fault.
How many times have you heard a learner say, “I learn better by doing.”? Personally, I hear this all the time. One of the precursors to doing is observing. My friends, that’s the reality and you need to realize that. But fret not. Build your training around observation and practice as much as possible. This can be done within the classroom, LMS and professional environment.
2. Can’t we all just get along?
I once worked with a client where the following scenario happened: They wanted their SMEs to teach part of a blended-learning class. They believed that learners will be even more productive if someone who does the job actually teaches the skills. Students would learn through classroom step-by-step processes, then practice on simulators. Once the practice was done, many of the SMEs decided to teach off-manual, or outside-of-the-script. The result? A whole classroom of confused learners as those who quickly picked up the process, out-paced those who needed a little extra help.
Solution: It’s not a bad idea to let this happen. I am all for buy-in by the stakeholders. However, monitor this closely. Explain to your stakeholders that the classroom will be reserved for baseline skills. Work with those who will supervise the employee and establish a job-shadow program where YOU can control the pace through job-aids or train-the-floor trainer guidance.
3. If you build it, they will socialize.
Take a good long look at your business environment and analyze its learning infrastructure. What elements can you employ to create internal socialization? If your organization has an LMS, does it have functionality that can serve as a chatroom, wiki, or blog? If not, there are many other ways to promote “over the cubicle learning.” You can create a forum type of communication within a SharePoint site or store job-aids there. If your organization lacks this type of technology, then there are always ways to set up shared folders that contain FAQs or coordinate and facilitate communities of practice using SMEs.
4. Capture the Conversation.
Once you develop your socialization infrastructure, then record it. Track what is going on in your LMS and SharePoint site to see who is using it, when they are using it and why. Use group-think in your communities of practice and transcribe what you hear. Create exercises that require the members to list, categorize, or prioritize their discussions around a certain issue or topic. Then confiscate the lists! Review blogs or wikis. At this point you will be creating a needs analysis for another round of training.
Now that you have some control over the way your organization learns outside of the classroom, let it go! Continue to develop new and more inventive ways to capture and record informal learning where it occurs.