How social learning impacts the learner experience

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The digital revolution has expanded our capability for social learning, but it’s up to trainers to make the best use of the tools available to engage their learners.

Social learning theory suggests that learning can occur from observing and imitating the actions of others.

IT has transformed our world in the sense that we now have instant information, sharing and collaboration – and this revolution of social learning will impact our learner experience.


Around 20 years ago, I was an associate trainer for a client company who told me that they expected between 40-50 pages of handouts per day of delivery.

Content was king, and as trainers we were expected to buy books and research on a subject, and then regurgitate that into our own words. Handouts were valued.

Today, a handout is out of date the moment you write it. The learner can control the knowledge they need on a subject, so if they are interested in a model, theory or case study, they can research it at the touch of a button.

I think this has helped both trainer, and learner – the trainer can spend more time designing participative events, and the learner can engage with the knowledge that interests them.

As a trainer, the key is to ask a question that sparks the debate, and be able to skillfully facilitate the discussion.

Tools like closed Facebook groups, Slack, Yammer, and Facebook Workplace help learners source, share and make sense of knowledge. They make pre-event work more interesting and aid learner engagement.

Recently I said to a group I was teaching, “we’re exploring management styles in the next module. I’m inviting you to search models of management, and come to the next module ready to share with us all the style that resonates for you”.

The activity created engagement and connection with the topic, and I learned as much as everyone else during knowledge share.

A lot of training nowadays can be moved on from content – whether it’s for legal subjects such as health and safety, to the areas I cover like management, leadership and interpersonal skills.


Years ago when a group entered the training room and saw a TV in the room it always generated excitement - ‘oh wow! We’re watching a video!’

I think it’s sad that the training films market is quiet now, as films showing poor practice were as valuable as films showing good practice.

I made a drama-based Minute Taking skills training video a few years ago, and people love the realistic dialogue and pace the actors speak at. Skills, techniques and tools can be learned from watching a film.

TED Talks provide great content and can be applied to subjects such as presentation skills. I often ask learners to choose a good TED talk and a bad TED talk, and be ready to share why they think the presenter was good or bad.

The learner can show snippets to highlight their opinions/feelings. As long as the trainer is respecting copyright, films can be hugely useful for the learner experience.

Social learning has always happened, and will always happen. In my experience, it impacts the learner experience in a positive way.

In one Slack group we were sharing films on counselling, and it was interesting to note that the shorter in duration the film, the higher the interest level.

I advise keeping films to a maximum of one to two minutes if you want a learner to watch.

My group picked up great questions, summary statements and lots of techniques that were put into practice. We used reflective learning online to share how and why things had worked, or not worked, for us.


A shift in attitude can be achieved by social sharing. I shared the Always – Like a Girl advertisement on a group I set up for learners. We had been discussing how everyday phrases might damage a person choosing to empower themselves.

The client I was working for used expressions such as ‘man up’ and ‘take it on the chin’ so often, that their people had started to chant it as a mantra.

When I posted the Like a Girl video I asked, ‘what implications do everyday phrases have on you empowering yourself?’.

The attitudinal shift was huge, with the video being shared to the company’s Slack site – and a result, attitudes shifted company wide.

I have used the knowledge-skill-attitude model, however we can apply the learner experience of social learning to learning styles, disruptive learning techniques and collaborative learning.

As a trainer, the key is to ask a question that sparks the debate, and be able to skillfully facilitate the discussion.

Social learning has always happened, and will always happen. In my experience, it impacts the learner experience in a positive way.

Interested to learn more? Read Learning technologies for the social media age

About Kay Buckby

Kay Buckby, trainer for The Development Company

Kay uses a learner driven, experiential approach in her work. She is always prepared to be challenged with unusual development requests, and often uses actors for drama workshops to embed knowledge, skills and attitudenal change.

Kay has held a variety of roles in her career - sales and marketing, office manager, HR person, Financial Controller, PA to the MD and trainer. She has worked in DIY retail, manufacturing, hospitality, an accounting centre and the gift and luggage sector. This means she has the common touch, as she is adaptable and versatile. 

She is a qualified trainer, coach, counsellor and mentor. Her specialist areas are management and leadership development. Kay uses the Kouzes-Posner Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) 360 degree assessment to develop leaders, although we can explore The Leadership Challenge without the feedback diagnostic. She is passionate about customer service excellence, team dynamics and talent management. 

Your learners are safe with Kay.

If you share my passion for learning and development, please connect with me on Linkedin:


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