Using purposeful social learning to increase employee engagement

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social learning

Is the 90-9-1 principle causing you disappointment with employee engagement on your digital social platforms? This principle demonstrates that only 1% of participants create content and 9% actively engage with that content, for example, by responding to it, whilst 90% are ‘lurkers’ who observe but do not contribute.

You can see this principle in action for online social communities across different platforms, including Facebook. However, with over 1.6 million daily Facebook users, even a measly 10% of engagement through users posting or commenting equates to a seemingly active community. Scale this down to an online community within a business unit or team and these percentages can make you wonder if it is worth it.

So how can you increase active digital engagement with your teams? The answer lies in creating purpose and offering opportunities for development and feedback.

In part three of our blog series Employee Engagement in Isolation and Beyond, we explore how to achieve employee engagement on your social platforms through purposeful social learning.

What is purposeful social learning?

Social learning in the physical workplace refers to the informal learning that takes place through observation, conversation and modelling. This informal learning is part of any normal day but it is also encouraged via facilitated feedback in formal training and coaching.

In the online environment, setting up a platform such as a Facebook Workplace group and hoping impromptu chatter will take off and lead to meaningful learning is unlikely to work. We believe that digital social learning benefits from some of the structure associated with face-to-face development experiences.

As with the very best real-world training sessions, online social learning is most effective when there is a purpose attached to a task or topic of conversation. This can be as simple as providing a context to the question or problem posed, so your participants can clearly see how it relates to their on-the-job experiences.

Facilitating purposeful social learning is about creating scenarios that enable people to learn as a consequence of engaging with that scenario. Role-play is a prime example of this. By asking participants to put themselves into the shoes of, for example, a salesperson dealing with a customer complaint, they can more easily walk through their decision-making process. Add feedback to this and your learner is prompted to reflect on and adjust their approach. Furthermore, watching others demonstrate approaches to the challenge leads agile learners to adopt effective behaviour they observe.

Purposeful social learning is ultimately about enabling the sharing of practice by creating means by which your team can observe how others complete the tasks they typically undertake. Whilst video role-play is a profoundly powerful means to achieve this, facilitating the sharing of ideas, experiences, expertise, and perspectives is also potent. Focused group dialog generates a virtuous cycle of development for individuals and increases engagement.

Why social learning matters now

With increased numbers of employees working from home and the likely continual use of social distancing measures, creating a sense of belonging and community is increasingly important. It is key to ensuring employee engagement and this is a prerequisite for empowering your team to hone their skills, up their product knowledge, and sharpen their working practices.

But there is another less obvious benefit. Because purposeful social learning is designed to engage your employees, it, therefore, provides an opportunity to spot non-contributors and outliers. At a time when we all need to be looking out for each other, social learning can help you spot individuals whose lack of engagement may indicate struggles with their mental or physical well-being during these challenging times. It offers you a way in to start that conversation with them and follow up with support if needed.

At the other end of the spectrum, purposeful social learning also gives you the opportunity to identify the curious learners in your team, those individuals whose desire to learn is especially strong, an essential ingredient to success in the workplace. By tangibly calling out the actions of your engaged learners you can leverage modelling to make learning a habit for all your team members. This not only facilitates engagement but also performance improvement.

How to facilitate purposeful social learning

We have seen the benefits of purposeful social learning play out time and again in our client organizations, including that of automobile manufacturer SsangYong.

Using our mobile learning and coaching platform On.Board, SsangYong leveraged the platform’s social feature to post highly technical or unusual questions from customers and asked participants to demonstrate how they would respond. Rather than simply use text replies, participants upload video and or audio responses. A discussion forum is then used to enable text-based feedback and discussion. Participants are also encouraged to post customer questions they have been asked, which prompts the sharing of experiences, advice, and articulation technique.

This kind of social learning can be played out across many social platforms, making it work effectively comes down to three actions:

Step 1. Establish ground rules 

Make sure everyone understands the rules of online behavior during your training session. Comments, language, and feedback must be supportive and constructive. Maybe provide some guidance in how to provide effective feedback i.e. the STAR technique.  All discussions must be visible to the whole group and not via private direct messaging.

Step 2. Be specific

Post specific challenges, tasks and questions for discussion that directly relate to the situations your team are likely to face day-to-day.

Step 3. Monitor and facilitate

Follow the responses from your team, taking note of who is engaging and importantly who is not. For those who are not contributing, try to bring them back into the conversation by tagging them and asking them to contribute.

Build on responses by replying in a manner which encourages further discussion. For example, ask follow-up questions, such as: what do you see as the next step? Is there anything else you would do?

Avoid absolute statements that judge the value or ‘correctness’ of someone’s contribution. Instead, prompt participants to assess their own contributions by guiding self-assessment e.g. ask; what did you demonstrate that was effective? What would you do differently next time?

Above all, be supportive of all contributions to create a safe environment for honest exchange.

Follow these three steps to facilitate purposeful social learning and you will unite your team in sharpening their skills to meet the demands of today’s challenging new market.



    • Thanks Jeanne, we are pleased that these ideas are helpful for you and your team. I can only imagine that sharing suggestions and experiences in the care environment is more important than ever right now. Take care!

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