Avoiding Mistakes

There Can Be No Social Learning without Collaboration

Sandra DundlerKarlsruhe (GER)/Burgau (A), December 2019 - "From Passive Participant to Active Contributor - Individual Responsibility and Error Management in Social Learning" is the title of Sandra Dundler’s presentation at LEARNTEC 2020 on 29 January at 15.30. She will define the conditions necessary for social learning to succeed and draw attention to potential "stumbling blocks".

How does error management in social learning differ from other types of computer based learning?

Sandra Dundler: Social learning is about expanding knowledge and enhancing competencies via joint social interaction, in other words, the exchange of personal experience, know how, and factual knowledge. The content process, i.e. the direction the discussion takes, cannot be predicted with precision, and consequently, neither can the result nor its quality without support by a moderator. The group is dependent on its own initiative, which means its mindset and the active participation of the members. Consequently, social learning inevitably needs more structure and framework, more attention from the "instructor".

Nowadays, everyone is talking about social learning, but it isn’t really a new concept. From an anthropological point of view, one of our brain’s most important activities in the learning process is directing attention because, in the context of group interaction, this was fundamental for cooperation. Viewed biologically, in the course of evolution, the neocortex has developed most pronouncedly of all areas of the brain. This has made it possible to develop social coexistence in groups, which is a factor for our survival and the current development of our species.

From this perspective, it becomes clear that social learning has always taken place. It occurs in any context (e.g. among small children) and both positively and negatively (e.g. collective adoption of bad habits such as tolerating late arrival at meetings). 

Once we have clarified what social learning is, the same rules apply to computer support as in the actual training context:

  • How do I interest and activate the learner in the content?
  • How do I ensure interaction and collaboration?
  • etc.

In addition, the tools that suit the employees have to be identified, as does how to introduce it into the company in a concerted fashion and methods for its monitoring by both humans and AI.


In the well known 70:20:10 model, social learning accounts for 20%. Can the other 80% be devoted to error management, and if not, why not?

Sandra Dundler: The 70:20:10 model argues that the majority of our learning activities take place outside of organised continuing education measures. We learn 70% on the job, through direct workplace experience. The 20% is generated through exchanges with colleagues, business partners, managers, etc. Only 10% is gained through formal further training in face-to-face, online and blended formats.

When we consult current learning theories, it becomes clear - stated in simple terms - that the each of them scrutinises a different type of knowledge:

  • Behaviourism (stimulus - reaction) concentrates on factual knowledge.
  • Cognitivism (thinking - reasoning - gaining insights) focuses on logical knowledge.
  • Constructivism (sense - individual construction) investigates practical knowledge.
  • Social learning (learning through communication) considers mutual knowledge.

This means that in social learning contexts, we tap into implicit knowledge (experiential knowledge) through creative processes and make it accessible to the community. That is, it’s not a matter of an instructor imparting expert knowledge to the participants, but rather, for example, a topic being explored jointly through in-depth discussions or behavioural changes being initiated or coming about through reflection or best practices. Through the dynamics and high degree of practical orientation, the learning success can turn out significantly better than with classical methods.

If a company wants to actively promote social learning for its employees’ further development, and thus establish the company as into a learning organisation, it needs a clear framework alongside personal commitment from the management. This is because there‘s one thing that social learning in the sense of further education isn’t, and that’s a sure-fire success. As indicated above, in addition to a certain technical component, social learning also demands a high quality of exchange and the willingness to pass on knowledge: away from the "old" paradigm that knowledge is power. Perseverance is also demanded for the period after the initial euphoria has evaporated. A pilot project at Credit Suisse with internal Facebook learning communities was dropped after just a few months because over the long term, only around 1% of the users were found to be actively participating.

If the "other 80%" is to be used toward avoiding errors, 70% head-space (free time) for participation in social learning channels would have to be set aside. In addition, management has to provide an appropriate role model, as well as demonstrate commitment and direct leadership of the effort. Social learning should be implemented as a "normal" element of daily work and the digital media integrated into the workflow, for instance, an expert network in the form of a wiki that is actively developed communally and used as a central information platform. The 10% of formal further training could generally be accompanied by target group oriented group discussions. An overall concept for social learning is critical if the potential is to be used to the company’s advantage.


Which tools do you regard as particularly appropriate for social learning - and possibly even for avoiding mistakes?

Sandra Dundler: Of the one hundred tools evaluated in her thirteenth annual "Learning Tools Survey" in "workplace learning", Jane Hart, founder of the "Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies", identified more than a third as being suitable for social learning and collaboration. This shows that there are indeed numerous useful instruments available on the market.

However, the question isn’t so much the suitability of the tool; actually, whether a holistic view is used or not is much more decisive. This means that the company's point of view involves having clear goals as part of its strategy, as well as a didactic concept that analyses and serves the target group’s needs. What is the connection to existing training offerings, etc.? And based on this, the company is in the position to make a selection of user friendly, mobile, and intuitive tools and to devise a way to combine them intelligently. The pedagogical concept that learning also depends on the formation of relationships should not be underestimated. A simple example involves thinking about the schoolteachers whose classes you enjoyed and those whose lessons you didn’t like. Ultimately, the assessment depends a lot on how good the relationship with the teacher was.

This is also true in the context of professional development. Have you ever attended a seminar where you simply couldn’t stand the trainer? If so, think about how much - or how little - of the content you actually remember. In regard to corporate social learning - and to the question of tool selection - this means that the relationship level also resonates here and is a decisive element of success or failure. Social learning tools must not engender a digital distance, and, especially in a corporate context, this means including know personalities with clearly identifiable names and photos. For example, personal video messages from management can and should be integrated into the training efforts. 

This means that "error avoidance" comprises consistent implementation, a clear framework, responsibilities, and perseverance - and constantly encourages and activates participation. Also critical is that Important IT security, data protection, and co-determination are brought on board at an early stage.


Which specific rules apply in the realm of communication?

Sandra Dundler: Generally speaking, it is important to ensure that a respectful style prevails in which appreciation is clearly communicated and that the originator of each contribution is always clearly identified. It is also helpful to ensure that it is apparent whether a contribution is factual knowledge or a personal interpretation or opinion. Hierarchy should not play a role in the opportunity to participate; a comment made by an employee at the lowest management level should also be shown esteem.

A compulsory level of "etiquette" is definitely helpful - for all kinds of media communication, by the way. Here are a few examples:

  • Contributors should check their messages for respectful style and added value on the topic.
  • Contributions should be clearly marked as facts or interpretations.
  • Sentences should be short and understandable.
  • Sources, further literature, videos, etc. should be included.
  • Honesty has to be given priority over anonymity. The chance for genuine discussion and exchange of opinions must also be given.
  • Corporate forms of addresses should be clearly defined.