Behaviours that support social learning

dreamstime_xs_51222044We all recognise that organisational culture has a strong influence on whether social learning truly takes off as a valuable learning approach.  Of course, it often happens quite naturally, so it’s very unlikely an organisation doesn’t have this channel in their mix, but organisational culture can hinder its deeper adoption and restrict its use strategically to meet organisational learning needs.

In my previous post, “Understanding Online Learning Communities“, I referenced one of two pieces of content that had recently appeared in my social learning feeds that I’ve found useful in terms of understanding online learning communities.  Today I’m going to refer to the second.

In his posting, “Developing a Digital Collaborative Culture”, Terence Brake draws on the writings of author, Don Tapscott, to explore four behavioural principles that should be nurtured to enable our learners to become successful digital collaborators.  I’ve looked at these from the perspective of effective participation in social learning.

I’ve recently been meeting with L&D professionals to discuss social and informal learning and it’s been encouraging to see that collaboration behaviours are now appearing in some competency frameworks.  If we can at least include some of the following in our own organisations, then we are off to a good start.

Four Calloboration Behaviours
Four behavioural principles (Source: Terence Brake [after Dan Tapscott], March 2016)

Openness is defined as valuing open minds and open boundaries.

Logistically this requires the creation of cross-boundary networks, but requires personal behaviours such as being prepared to bounce ideas off other people, asking questions instead of always assuming knowledge and prioritising listening over talking.  Valuing differences is a complementary supporting personal quality.

And with social learning communities usually depending on the support of subject matter experts, they will need to support the behaviour of being approachable, while – as noted by Terence – setting reasonable personal boundaries.


Transparency refers to valuing the visibility of intentions and actions.

Some of the key behaviours here that would support successful social learning include demonstrating the everyone is trusted to think; and encouraging visible thinking, actions and decisions, known as “working out loud”.  Showing what you are thinking allows others to see where you are coming from, which in turn allows them to provide the most appropriate feedback.

Striving for clarity and accuracy and resisting any distortion or embellishment also helps to show that social learning contributions are more easily understood, as does acknowledging the potential influences of personal biases.

Finally – and perhaps most importantly – is encouraging the behaviour of demonstrating that speaking up is safe and valued.  Some of the most successful social learning experiences I’ve seen have been where senior employees are key contributors and have modelled all these desirable behaviours.


Sharing is based on valuing the free sharing of knowledge and ideas.

This is probably one of the most important factors in determining how successful your social learning activities will be.  If social learning is about leveraging the collective wisdom of the organisation, then if individuals in that organisation prefer to keep that knowledge to themselves, there won’t be much progress.

Logistically, L&D can provide support here by providing the necessary tools to make knowledge sharing simple.  Individuals need to then exhibit behaviours such as being prepared to ask for feedback and being seen to appreciate it and to ask others for help and advice.  I have seen many intelligent people struggle with both these behaviours.  On the one hand there’s been a reluctance to highlight their own skills and knowledge gaps; whilst those with the answers have been reluctant to share what they know for fear of being critiqued by their peers.  I think that’s a perfect “double-edged sword”.

Another necessary behaviour is valuing competence and credibility over status.  In my post “Using Digital Learning for Executive Development”, I mentioned how some senior employees may often avoid participating in discussions with more junior audiences, denying the latter the benefit of their wisdom, which highlights the importance of this sharing behaviour.

Organisationally, we need to encourage the behaviour of sharing spontaneously as well as via formal routes.  In some cases, we may have to start with the latter to provide the environment for the former to flourish and embedding social learning collaboration into formal blended programmes is one possible approach.  We also need to stress that it’s just as important to share the little ideas as well as the big ideas that have typically attracted the most attention; and in my recent discussions, it’s been clear that we can encourage more sharing through providing overt recognition of how the knowledge shared helped to meet a business objective.


Empowerment concerns valuing self-leadership throughout the organisation.

The first empowerment behaviour in Terence’s posting refers to demonstrating commitment to developing self-awareness and continuous learning.  This has to be one of the golden ideals for most L&D strategies and is one of the drivers I’m uncovering for promoting social and informal learning.

Aligning personal goals to organisational goals is another key behaviour.  We know that when this happens individuals develop learning plans that are more meaningful to them and where they can see tangible results.  It also provides a tighter focus for communities of like-minded individuals, which is critical to bond a group together.

Other key behaviours here are inviting individuals and crowds to contribute knowledge and ideas – this also helps to break down silos – and treating mistakes as learning opportunities.  I’ve written before about the learning potential of post-project debriefs and if these are then shared wider, the learning impact is much greater.  Finally, we should encourage the behaviour of sharing resources across boundaries.  Within the social learning mix, the need to allow every employee to be a content creator and curator is a key success factor when looking to embed social and informal learning approaches into the organisational training delivery mix.

I’ve summarised the above in the diagram below.

Behaviours that support social learning

So take time to look at your organisational behaviour frameworks.  Do they encourage social learning collaboration?  Which new behaviours can you add that will empower your people to be open to sharing their skills and knowledge in a transparent manner?

Behaviours that support social learning

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