|Photo by US Dept of Agriculture on Flickr|
Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1978) argued that we learn best when we are immersed in a socially rich, culturally relevant environment. Language is key, as is context. So is the social connection between those who are learning, and those who are supporting that learning. Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) theory has several layers, but the important one to consider is the zone where we are able to learn more with the help of a more knowledgeable other person.
|Image from Wikimedia Commons|
This kind of en masse training is no longer relevant in an age where many are independent knowledge workers. It is also a poor method of learning. This is because learners are individuals. Each of us learns differently at our own pace and in a variety of contexts and modes, depending on our preferences, the time we have available, and according yo our abilities and motivation. Social learning in the workplace works because it capitalises on these individual differences and various contexts, and relies on the relationship between those who are undertaking the tasks.
Social learning is strongly relational. Albert Bandura (1986) argued that people learn from each other through observation, imitation, and modelling. Everyone knows something, but no-one knows everything. Therefore, in a peer relationship, each employee can provide social scaffolding for others, whilst receiving support in return. Dialogue between individuals mediates the social capital and generates the intellectual capital. Dialogic interaction therefore enables the reciprocation of knowledge and skills transfer across multiple ZPD contexts.
Personal technology and social media can support social learning in the workplace, and make it a reality no matter the size of an organisation.... and we can all use a little help now and then.
Bandura, A. (1986). Prentice-Hall series in social learning theory. Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ, US: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978) Mind in Society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Better together by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.