The theory or social learning is anything but recent. Back in 1977 Albert Bandura developed it from the behaviorist theories that supported the ideas of operant and classical conditioning. He shows, however, that learning is mostly done by observing others.
Children pay attention to those they perceive as models and encode the behavior they exhibit. Later they will replicate these behaviors. Most often than not children will chose to imitate what is socially considered “gender appropriate”. This is because usually they copy those who seem similar to themselves. Whether they will keep replicating a certain behavior depends on the type of reinforcement (positive or negative) they receive.
It’s important to note that the learner also plays an active role in this process and does not simply receive information, but his behavior impacts the environment as well. In scientific terms this is called reciprocal determinism.
Since this is obviously the natural process of learning, instructional designers should use this information whenever they set on creating content, even if it is meant for an adult audience. The mechanism of learning stays the same and it begins with attention.
Getting their attention
Capturing the attention of your learners is key if they are to later replicate a desired behavior. And after capturing their attention, you need to keep it for enough time to expose the points your course is aiming to make. Lack of focus can lead to missing out on important information, a fact that will greatly affect the success of the unit.
Attention can be a tricky thing. As Michelle Miller, one of today’s leading experts on modern learning, notes: "The inattentional blindness effect illustrates a broader truth about human perception and attention, that looking and seeing are two different things - and that we are remarkably prone to missing stimuli when our attention is directed elsewhere."
Human attention can easily shift (whether it is voluntarily or involuntarily), it is rather limited and we are not always aware of these limits (basically we believe about ourselves that we pay a lot more attention than we actually do). This raises quite the challenge for instructional designers.
The sure way to succeed is to involve learners as much as possible in the process. Keeping it interactive will keep them interested. Adding games and quizzes to e-learning courses are also a good way to make sure that attention is maintained for long enough to ensure retention.
Going social with learning
Discussions have been part of e-learning since it started. Moving them into the social media realm will boost interaction levels. Giving learners the opportunity to share information and experience will help you see what topics are most debated so you can include them in further courses.
One of the best things about taking learning into social media is that you can give learners access to great resources and references that can be accessible right away. Rather than updating your e-learning course material with a link to a useful article, you can simply post that link on your Facebook page and enable learners to acquire that new information immediately. Posting regular updates will greatly help information refresh and encourage self-development.
Keep in mind that having an effective social learning strategy means constantly keeping the learners involved. It takes effort on the instructional designer’s part but the results are well worth it.
Motivating in social context
As stated even in the early theory of social learning, motivation is a must. Adult learners need to be motivated just as much as children do (or even more so as they display less natural curiosity). Social learning theory postulates that motivation can originate from being rewarded or punished, as when we are in a similar situation, we will imitate or avoid the behavior based on our past experience.
As Albert Bandura showed, it’s not only external reinforcement that affects learning and behavior, but internal reward (or intrinsic reinforcement) is also of the utmost importance. Internal reinforcement comes with feeling good after successfully performing a task – it gives a sense of accomplishment and leads to improved self-confidence.
Employing the mechanics of games in order to encourage healthy competition, give immediate feedback about success or failure is very efficient in maintaining motivation levels. Awarding participants some form of personalized certificate of achievement will give them something to show for their effort – most probably on social media.
The bottom line
The bottom line is that social learning is the most natural version of the process. With today’s technology at hand and with e-learning becoming the norm of corporate training it is easier than ever to incorporate all the social tools and platforms.