A Code of Ethics in the Workplace
What Ever Happened to Ethics at Johnson & Johnson?

Social Learning for a Social Workplace

What is Social Learning?

I must admit I am new to the concept of “social learning.” I read an interesting piece on it by Michael Rose, General Manager of Knoodle, which provides a cloud-based social presentation, training, and learning management system. Rose points out that the emergence of Web 2.0 and social networking tools have radically changed the way organizations do business… so much so that terms such as "social business", "social enterprise", and "social workplace"—terms that had hardly existed a decade ago—are now widely accepted as commonplace phrases. Furthermore, it is apparent that these popular "buzz words" all have something in common: the word "social".

In case you are a novice like me, Web 2.0 technology enables peer-to-peer sharing and collaborative development. Societal norms are shifting, especially in how we learn. Web 2.0 has altered the characteristics of the learning environment, making the concept of social learning that much more possible. The era of the learning community is here and affects the way business is done.

Since I am an academic, let me share what I know about social learning. The concept of social learning has roots in a social constructivist approach, where learning is a self-directed, problem-based, and a collaborative process. Through involvement in activities, learners must attempt to solve a problem according to their own process. The individual determines how to proceed based on his or her unique needs, perceptions, and experiences, distinguishes known from unknown, identifies resources available to support learning efforts, and formalizes and tests personal beliefs.

Once contextual meaning has been established, information becomes organized as knowledge, operating in a larger context of meaning encompassing relevant patterns, biases, and interpretations. Land and Hannafin point out that because self-direction and problem-solving are critical to the learning process, “the ideal environment for learning is open-ended. That is, learners receive direction to a problem, and to tools they can use to solve problems. They may solve the problem on their own, or, more likely, in collaboration with other learners.”

Enough of the lecture. Back in the day, as the expression goes, work was done by individuals perhaps with the help of team members. In the new social workplace, ideas are shared instantaneously with no boundaries or borders and businesses react to problems rapidly to stay globally competitive. Rose points to one downside with this new model of the social workplace: “Conversations happen in 140 characters, documents are collaboratively created, and content is archived and calculated—but very little experience and knowledge is actually shared.” As a result, many executives have to deal with a series of looming questions:

  • How can you continue to move fast, yet take the time to invest in growing your business?
  • How can there be employee development when no one can stop long enough to teach or learn?
  • And how can you identify the internal skills, intelligence, wisdom and expertise that your employees have and distribute it in a way that flows right into your business stream?

There is no one way to answer these questions, but many experts and organizations are now realizing that a new era in workplace learning has emerged—an era where knowledge sharing and collaboration are crucial, but needs to be nurtured and extended in ways that are conducive to how today's social workplace operates.

My concern as a college professor is that students today don’t know how to work together. They are not used to collaboration. They are not accustomed to the give and take of a learning community. Instead, they are used to typing in some words or clicking on an “app” and everything is at their fingertips. True learning occurs through trial and error, discussion and action, and not by isolated effort. As we move more and more into a social learning environment, the challenge for professors (and employers) will be to break old habits that die hard and get young people to share knowledge in a collaborative mode to support the social workplace.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 22, 2011