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What is Social Learning? Important Tips, Strategies, & Examples

Explore social learning: a comprehensive guide on its importance, practical tips, strategies, and real-life examples for improved educational outcomes

Social learning is the concept that humans learn through observing their surroundings. As social beings, interactions with others around us has a profound impact on our growth. This concept has been widely studied by psychologists, educationists, and philosophers throughout history and is a fairly old one. However, recently we have witnessed a rise in its use in online learning.

In this article, we will learn about the ins and outs of this phenomenon, what it means, its applications in L&D, and strategies of usage.

Social learning 101

Our views are not entirely our own. We may think of ourselves as individual solitary thinkers but in reality, we are a sum total of our interactions. What we know, we know from others, mostly. From our childhood through adulthood, there is always someone responsible for mentoring us.

First are our parents, then teachers and friends, and eventually, every person we interact with, whether directly or indirectly. This process of acquiring knowledge happens at times unconsciously. One takes notice of the surroundings, sees that certain behaviors are better than others, and inadvertently internalizes them.

Since observational learning is ever-evolving, it further makes social learning a continuous and flexible concept. This is to say, one never stops observing and hence learning.

Elements of Social Learning

Mere observation isn't all that is there to this learning approach. In fact, it is far more nuanced. Following are some key components that: make this learning genre different from others:

  • Observation: This refers to the process of noticing others' behaviors around us and mirroring them. One picks and chooses these behaviors based on societal acceptance of them and based on that molds them.
  • Assessment: Here one determines whether the observed behavior fits with one's personality. The assessment process is about compatibility.
  • Imitation: After assessing the compatibility of behaviors, one tries to imitate them. Replication helps internalize these behaviors.
  • Identification: Social learning focuses on how people identify with others. One tries to identify with others if it is beneficial for them i.e. to identify with others to associate oneself with their achievements. This notion takes from Freud's Oedipal complex theory.

Social Learning Theories (SLT)

Several psychologists have studied this notion deeply and given their own two cents on ts. Let's look at some of the most prominent ones.

SLT - Albert Bandura

Albert Bandura is a renowned American-Canadian psychologist who has worked extensively on children's psychology. He first proposed the social learning theory in 1986 which went on to become the social cognitive theory. Bandura's work focuses on how environmental and cognitive factors impact one's learning and behavior.

For this, he gives two aspects:

  1. Reinforcement learning: This refers to how one takes up or drops behaviors based on a reward system. The reward system implies whether one is appreciated for their behavior or shamed for it. Depending on this outcome one adopts a particular behavior.
  2. Vicarious learning: This refers to the learning or adoption of behaviors via observation.  

In addition, another famous psychologist BF Skinner builds on these concepts and calls them 'the human behavior' - how we do things based on the reward and punishment phenomenon. Interestingly, this idea is also used in the development of AI models.

According to Bandura, four essential processes influence learning:

  • Awareness: To be aware of one's surroundings to determine what behavior one would prefer to adopt. This is an essential step, without being aware of things around how will we ever learn whether for social learning or otherwise.
  • Retention: To remember a behavior to imitate it later on. Good memory is key here.
  • Reproduction: To be able to internalize one needs to reproduce the behaviors.
  • Motivation: To seek reward and appreciation for a behavior. This is positive reinforcement and encourages one to do more of something assumed socially good.

SLT - Lev Vygotsky

Vygotsky's theory centers around conversations and community and how these two are integral parts of learning. For him, without others, individuals would not have been able to develop. Furthermore, he also includes the written word for learning and thought process development. Indeed, collaborative learning strategies have a significant influence on one's growth.

Career decision-making SLT - John Krumboltz

Kruboltz was a prominent Stanford professor who explained how we make our career choices. He suggested four main factors which determine our ultimate career choices.

  • Generalized self-observation: We define ourselves according to our achievements. Consequently, these observations end up influencing our decisions, even the ones related to our career choices.
  • Generalized world view: We perceive the world around us in a certain way and eventually these generalizations play a vital role in the development of our environment and ourselves.
  • Task approach skills: This is about how we approach a task. When presented with a situation how do we assess it and attempt to solve it?
  • Actions: Finally, our learning experiences determine our general actions and eventually our career-related decisions too.

Pros & Cons of Social Learning

Let's take an objective look at this phenomenon and determine if this is really that beneficial.


  • It is a natural way of learning and comes to us organically without trying.
  • Encourages better skills by exchange of ideas between one another e.g. social skill development.
  • Improves retention rate and hence improves overall performance.
  • A cheaper way of learning.
  • Offers a collaborative learning experience that encourages even passive learners to engage.
  • Helps in capturing organizational knowledge from the collective experiences of employees.


  • This can result in inner conflicts from constant imitation of others.
  • It May also result in a loss of innovation as more people try to be alike and give up on uniqueness.
  • People can end up with self-esteem problems from comparisons with others.
  • Difficult to measure and calibrate this learning approach.

Social Learning Model 70:20:10

For course creators and L&D content developers, this model is a holy grail. Simple, etch this onto your minds to succeed. This model suggests that the majority - 70% - of our learning is experiential. To illustrate this better, think of how much of what we know comes from first-hand experience, be it hands-on job training or simulator learning, we learn most from experience. Second is social learning, which is to say we learn from our interactions, relationships, and discussions with others. And lastly, formal learning which is what we learn during our school years, or formal courses - institutionalized learning.

If you wish to design successful courses that guarantee completion rates, then follow this model and divide your course content accordingly. Avoid imposing too much study material onto learners as it might deter and bore them. Rather, include them in the very process of learning using engaging gamification methods.

Social Learning Examples

Wondering how to integrate social learning into your workplace effectively? Then stop stressing ASAP. I have got you covered with these handy strategies.

Learning Groups

This traditional form of social learning involves forming groups for face-to-face seminars or virtual meetings, where learners can engage directly with each other and the material. The benefits include:

  • Enhanced Understanding: Questions and discussions within the group can clarify concepts for all members.
  • Active Engagement: Group tasks and defending viewpoints encourage active participation and deeper learning.
  • Facilitated Insights: Instructors can guide understanding through targeted questions, helping learners make connections and gain insights.

Examples for Learning Groups:

  • Scheduling regular after-work learning sessions on specific topics.
  • Establishing focus groups to tackle defined issues.
  • Creating online learning communities for skill improvement.
  • Organizing presentations followed by discussion sessions.

Brainstorming Sessions

These sessions leverage collective creativity and expertise to generate innovative solutions. Characteristics include:

  • Spitballing: An informal stage where any and all ideas are welcomed, fostering a creative and open environment.
  • Focused Brainstorming: Ideas are refined and developed into concrete strategies or products.
  • Diverse Participation: Including individuals from various backgrounds can introduce fresh perspectives.

Discussion Forum

Discussion forums offer a structured space for learners to engage in topic-specific conversations, promoting a deeper exploration of subjects through communal inquiry and debate.

  • Knowledge Exchange: Forums facilitate the sharing of ideas, solutions, and insights, enriching participants' understanding.
  • Community Support: Learners can seek advice, feedback, and support, creating a sense of belonging and collective growth.

Examples for Discussion Forums:

  • Online forums dedicated to continuous professional development topics.
  • Company-specific forums for sharing industry insights and innovations.
  • Open forums for cross-departmental collaboration on project challenges.

Peer Learning

Peer learning harnesses the power of learning alongside equals, where individuals learn from each other's experiences, feedback, and knowledge.

  • Mutual Growth: Learners grow together, sharing knowledge and skills in a reciprocal manner.
  • Diverse Perspectives: Peers bring varied experiences and viewpoints, broadening the learning experience.
  • Enhanced Engagement: Learning from peers often feels more relatable and engaging, promoting active participation.

Examples for Peer Learning:

  • Pairing employees for mutual skill development sessions.
  • Group projects where team members teach each other relevant skills.
  • Peer review sessions for sharing feedback and insights on work or learning materials.

Sharing Internet Resources

Motivating employees to share and discuss online resources can foster a culture of learning and collaboration. An internal library of curated content can be a valuable asset for organizational learning.

Exchange and Knowledge Sharing: Encouraging informal interactions among employees can lead to spontaneous learning opportunities, with benefits including:

  • Improved Networking: Coffee breaks and company events provide opportunities for employees to share knowledge and experiences, fostering a learning culture.
  • Efficient Problem-Solving: Informal discussions can lead to innovative solutions, with leadership steering conversations towards productive outcomes.

Social Learning Through Knowledge Management

Digital collaboration tools enable real-time cooperation and knowledge exchange, enhancing the learning experience. Examples include:

  • Simultaneous Document Editing: Tools like online collaboration whiteboards allow students and members to collaborate effectively, regardless of location.
  • Quick Communication: Platforms like Slack or Zoom facilitate fast exchanges of ideas and resources, supporting just-in-time learning and virtual interactions.

Interactive Learning Platforms

Modern platforms offer features that support social learning, including live chat for interaction, social channel for learning, and peer review elements. For instance, platforms like Teachfloor enable:

  • Collaborative Learning Paths: Students can work together on learning tasks, share insights, and track each other's progress.
  • Social Learning Networks: Features like content recommendations and leaderboards foster a community of learning and achievement.

Mastermind Groups

Mastermind groups are specialized forums where individuals come together to share challenges, exchange ideas, and support each other's growth and success.

  • Focused Goal Achievement: Members work together to set, pursue, and achieve personal and professional goals.
  • Collective Wisdom: The group harnesses the collective insights, experiences, and skills of its members to solve problems and brainstorm strategies.
  • Accountability and Support: Provides a structured framework for accountability, motivating members to progress toward their goals while offering mutual support and encouragement.

Examples for Mastermind Groups:

  • Small, focused groups of professionals meeting regularly to discuss strategic business challenges and opportunities.
  • Virtual mastermind groups leveraging digital platforms to connect members across different locations for regular strategy sessions.
  • Industry-specific mastermind groups focusing on sharing best practices, trends, and innovations to drive collective success.


Social learning is truly a gamechanger, especially in employee training. By implementing the presented strategies, you will be able to capitalize on its benefits and make your workplace a full-time immersive educational space. Moreover, it is not just learning, it leads to your overall personal growth.

By applying social learning in your workspace, not only you, but your employees will also get to grow along with you, hence, benefiting the entire environment. It is truly a collaborative way of development.

FAQ Section

What is social learning?

Social learning is a concept where humans learn through observing their surroundings and interacting with others. It suggests that our knowledge and behaviors are significantly shaped by our social interactions.

Who proposed the theory of Social Learning?

Albert Bandura, an American-Canadian psychologist, first proposed the Social Learning Theory, which later evolved into the Social Cognitive Theory. His work highlighted the impact of environmental and cognitive factors on learning and behavior.

What are the 4 stages of social learning theory?

The four stages of social learning theory, as proposed by Albert Bandura, are:

  1. Attention (Awareness): Recognizing and focusing on specific behaviors in the environment.
  2. Retention: Remembering the observed behavior for future reproduction.
  3. Reproduction: Practicing and mimicking the behavior.
  4. Motivation: Being motivated to display the behavior through positive reinforcement or the anticipation of rewards.

How does social learning differ from traditional learning methods?

Unlike traditional learning methods that often focus on direct instruction and memorization, social learning emphasizes learning through observation, imitation, and social interaction. It involves elements such as assessment of observed behaviors for compatibility, and imitation for internalization.

Can social learning be applied in online education?

Yes, social learning has seen a rise in online learning environments. It can be effectively implemented through forums, virtual classrooms, and social media platforms, allowing learners to interact and learn from each other remotely.

What are some effective strategies for integrating social learning into workplace training?

Effective strategies include forming learning groups for direct engagement, organizing brainstorming sessions for collaborative problem-solving, facilitating discussion forums for in-depth conversations, and promoting peer learning for mutual growth.

What is the 70:20:10 Social Learning Model?

The 70:20:10 Model suggests that 70% of learning is experiential (from hands-on experience), 20% is social (from interactions with others), and 10% is formal (from traditional educational settings). This model is especially relevant for course creators and L&D content developers.

What are some challenges associated with social learning?

While social learning offers numerous benefits, challenges can include potential inner conflicts from constant imitation, a potential loss of innovation due to conformity, and difficulties in measuring and calibrating its effectiveness.

How can social learning contribute to personal and professional growth?

Social learning not only facilitates knowledge acquisition but also enhances social skills, improves retention rates, and fosters a collaborative learning environment. This can lead to overall personal growth and a more dynamic and innovative workplace culture.

Further reading

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