Field Notes: An Introvert’s Guide to Social Learning

I was valedictorian of my high school class. One of five actually – in a graduating class of 44 students. Needless to say, it was a very competitive environment with perhaps a somewhat flawed measurement system. I fought for the achievement, though, and consider myself a strong learner still, priding myself on my curiosity, critical thinking, and capability to make connections between new and existing knowledge.

What I have never been is a very “social” learner. At least not in the sense that was measured in high school and college. I despised having to achieve that part of my grade based on class participation, because to me, the things that helped me to learn – curiosity, critical thinking, making connections – happened internally, and not by sharing my thoughts with others.

It’s a bit curious then that I’ve spent the last 10 years or so of my career tangled in the power of social learning. When I think about why, it comes down to this: being “social” while learning isn’t just about helping me learn, but rather helping those around me to learn, too. And I find it immensely fulfilling to help others to learn.

So what is the big fuss about social learning?

In a few words, it’s powerful and preferred. And really, just starting to take off.

From Degreed’s How the Workforce Learns report:
Workers have more options for development than ever before, but they still want guidance. When they need to learn something new, though, they are most likely to ask their boss or mentor (69%) or their colleagues (55%) for recommendations.

From the same report, we know that more mature learning organizations deliver 13% more learning via social interaction.

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Human behaviorists have their own body of research on why we learn with and from others. For many people, it is helpful to their own learning when they dialogue with others. If that describes you, you probably naturally gravitate to the social aspects of learning: sharing, recommending, adding comments, rating content, because those are the ways you improve your own skill.

Those of us who reflect internally in order to learn may not immediately see the value of recommending content, leaving comments on it, or providing ratings. Experiencing the value of social learning though, I would now recommend that we internal learners shift our paradigm a bit.

Consider that rather than helping the individual learn (whether the individual person or someone else), these social experiences help others learn, providing value beyond myself and instead to others. Think about it: when you are choosing articles to read, videos to watch, podcasts to subscribe to – do you look at the ratings? Do you read or skim comments from others before making your final selection? I do too.

We can contribute to the social ecosystem even more by creating original content with things like social posts, articles, videos, and podcasts that we upload and share with others. The value of sharing knowledge is great, and the need for perfectly produced products is decreasing, allowing everyone to have a voice.

So as you take the few moments to rate, comment, share or recommend, think about all of the value you’re driving to future content seekers, and the extra learning you may be gaining for yourself.

In high school, it seemed really hard to find that right moment to raise my hand and share my thoughts in front of the entire class. But with this mindset shift, sharing learning today is easy, and that is better than any participation points!

Written by Kristi Broom