Social Learning : Bandura and beyond

Social Learning theory postulates that learning is a cognitive process that takes place in the social context and can occur purely through observation or direct instruction, even in the absence of motor reproduction or direct reinforcement ( Albert Bandura is credited with making significant contribution to this theory which integrated behavioural and cognitive theories of learning in order to provide a comprehensive model for the wide range of learning experiences that occur in the real world. However, Bandura’s theory is quite different from how the term “Social learning” is being used today. With the advent of the digital age and social media, social learning has acquired a new flavour – one influenced by learning that occurs assisted by social media and collaboration. As a means of knowledge acquisition, learning from peers and through interaction has always been a considered a key component of the process of imbibing knowledge. So, social learning by itself, is not very new; the technology has however changed. It has become ubiquitous and with social media becoming a key element in almost every aspect of work life today, it is inevitable that learning would remain unaffected by it.
In the context of the enterprise, learning is an invaluable tool – one that ensures productivity and helps sustain competitive advantage. From Peter Senge who popularized the term “Learning Organization” to Berger and Luckman who brought social learning theory into Organizational Learning literature, there have been several proponents of the concept that an organization that is able to learn continuously is the one that will have a sustainable competitive advantage. Over the years, this has been implemented in several ways in organizations:
• Structured learning through formal training programs
• Apprenticeship and Internship which allowed employees to learn on the job
• Post-situational learning – learning from mistakes / introducing changes based on experience
• Collaborative learning – Learning through sharing insights and experience with colleagues and others
The internet and collaborative technologies have given rise to newer methodologies to implement these age-old practices viz. e-learning, blended learning models, Communities of Practice and so on. With Social Media taking centre-stage we are also witnessing an attempt to use social media tools for organization learning. Discussion Forums, Communities of Practice and other collaborative learning models have been on the rise. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) is yet another term that has gained popularity – structured learning programs have now been blended with a collaborative tool giving rise to several streams of discussions, insights and opinions becoming available on a single subject. While these have benefited the users by making available content, the likes of which we have never seen before, a concomitant headache has been the information overload that has accompanied this. How do we separate the wheat from the chaff? With nearly a million voices speaking at the same time, how do we identify what is valuable for us, in the current context?
What does Organization learning mean in the context of your enterprise? How close would you say your organization is to becoming a Learning Organization?