| 13 April, 2022 | 6 Min Read

Social learning theory in the workplace for beginners

Learning can be inculcated in different ways in a workplace. Formal training is one straightforward way to make your employees learn. However, it has been observed that employees tend to learn a lot through peer interaction alone. This is what we call ‘social learning.’ According to a recent study, 58% of learning and development professionals currently incorporate social learning into their online learning programs.

In this growing digital world, knowledge is no longer limited to libraries but is available at our fingertips. This applies to employee training as well, where the traditional classroom-style learning through boring presentations is long gone. As demonstrated by Albert Bandura in his bandura theory, companies are increasingly adopting social learning at the workplace, which proves the superiority of informal learning over academic education.


There are many distinct forms of how social learning theory is applicable to the workplace – group discussions, learning mentorships with leaders, sharing expertise with colleagues, role plays, and replicating the behavior of leaders. In contrast to conventional methods, social learning focuses on interactions with coworkers for 'just in time' knowledge. Combining social learning with e-learning and hands-on technologies has become the new normal in the workplace.

This blog covers the insights shared by Ian Choo - Regional L&D Architect and Syukri Azman - Experiential Learning Designer, on social learning.

Social learning is proven to be one of the critical parts of employee performance enablement, as highlighted in our new performance playbook, "Catch the new wave: Performance enablement."

Download the ebook →

How is social learning adding value to the workplace? 

"Training often gives people solutions to problems already solved. Collaboration addresses challenges no one has overcome before." - Marcia Conner. 

The quote emphasizes the importance of collaboration through social learning, which can help overcome challenges. This is also true from a workplace perspective. By applying social learning capabilities to their learning and development strategies, companies add value to training programs at minimal investment.  

Compared to traditional learning techniques such as instructor-led training, social learning is less expensive and more engaging, with a quick return on investment (ROI). 

Still not convinced? 

Here are some fascinating statistics that show the impact and ROI of social learning theory applicable to the workplace.

  • Ceramics manufacturer Villeroy & Boch shares that their social learning process yielded a 32% increase in average transaction value in Japan.
  • Spain-based automobile repair chain Tiendas Aurgi reveals that social learning increased their overall floor productivity by 30%.
  • Cisco's first year of using social learning to drive its shift to a global services company resulted in a 98% employee acceptance rate.
  • According to AMD, a semiconductor manufacturer, shifting to social learning has saved them more than $250,000 per year in online training costs.

Importance of social learning in today's workplace

Since the global lockdown, the relevance of social learning theory in the workplace has increased. Social learning develops a culture of 360-degree ownership in the performance enablement process. However, this should not be used to replace or supplement other learning methodologies such as face-to-face (classroom or virtual), cognitive learning, or e-learning.

After all, it fits well into the "20" of the "70/20/10" paradigm (peer-to-peer learning). If social learning is used effectively, it can be a tremendous driver of Knowledge Management and Business Continuity on top of academic education.

Embracing social learning has become a need of the hour for many companies. Below are some of the many reasons to adopt social learning at the workplace.

Grove HR - Social learning theory in the workplace 1

  1. 1. Saves training costs: Social learning can significantly reduce costs compared to the expenses associated with traditional learning methods. As a result, social learning has a high return on investment (ROI). According to Brandon Hall Group, social learning training has a 75-fold higher ROI than formal learning.
  2. 2. Encourages constructivism: Social learning is a philosophy that promotes learning as a collaborative and active process in which employees take on the role of educators. When applied to the workplace, experienced employees can play the role of a tutor to train recruits, and the process continues.
  3. 3. Accelerates productivity: Learning has always been a driving force in employee productivity. Employees feel confident with their skills and knowledge, which boosts their morale and willingness to put forward their best work. Hence, companies can build a causal learning environment that allows employees to learn quickly and form more productive partnerships within their teams by encouraging social learning in the workplace.
  4. 4. Improves workplace communication: Clear communication is vital to thriving in the corporate world. Social learning fosters organic collaboration in an online learning environment, where information is shared and valued across the company.
  5. 5. Increases motivation: Employee motivation is also improved by social learning, as they participate more readily and with curiosity in training. For instance, combining a social learning strategy with an online training program helped Harvard Business School improve the course completion rate by 85%.
  6. 6. Employee retention: Social learning in the workplace positively impacts employee retention. Employees naturally feel satisfied when they share their expertise and coach peers. Implementing a social learning strategy helps people learn from real-life experiences and boosts employee happiness and loyalty.

Best practices to embrace social learning in the workplace 

  1. 1. Learn from anywhere: Social learning must be portable, where employees can access it anywhere. Organizations must include mechanisms for learning within the workplace and on the go via e-learning options.
  2. 2. Use the right tools: Social learning requires the right tools and technologies that encourage communication, information exchange, and co-construction of knowledge. From an e-learning perspective, employees need a suitable digital interface to connect and foster collaborative learning. 
  3. 3. Create a feedback loop: Social learning can work successfully with a feedback loop between the employees and the company. Take advantage of this to encourage the continuous development of personnel and the company.
  4. 4. Multi-way communication: Social learning has been a silent partner for years in every employee's learning curve. Employees have been picking up knowledge from peers indirectly, and it's time to make it a workplace practice using discussion forums and instant messaging. This social learning method can help employees communicate freely across all levels and learn from peers that help them grow as employees. 
  5. 5. Encourage participation: Organizations can't force learning on their employees but can provide them with the tools and incentives. Gamification and rewards can motivate and encourage employees to participate in social learning. Gamification also helps the company to track employee development and performance.

Social learning is the future of career development 

The world is heading towards a swiftly changing workforce environment, where collaboration, coworking, and team productivity are quintessential. The workplace learning process is shifting from "what" to "how" employees learn. Social learning theory in the workplace has become a necessity rather than an option. 

Organizations should see social learning complementing one-to-one interaction but not replacing it altogether. 

This article is a part of our playbook "Catch the new wave: Performance enablement - Strategic insights from leading HR experts”. Download it for free 

Download the ebook →

wepik-export-20230524103213c0NG 1

Reduce manual effort with automated HR processes

  • Reduce manual effort with automated HR processes
  • Automate attendance and time off.
  • Conduct 360-degree performance management easily.