In customer education, we are always seeking new and improved ways to reach learners. In order to effectively engage current customers and also win new ones, our offerings have to be as engaging and rewarding as possible.
Adopting a social learning model is a powerful and underrated way to boost your customer education program. The social learning approach recognizes that people are heavily influenced by what their peers and their broader social space value in terms of accreditation and achievement. With the right approach to social learning, your learners can become your biggest promoters, without any pressure from you.
When searching the platform to house your customer education program, selecting one that supports social learning is a wise move.
But what precisely is social learning? Why is it so powerful? And how can the right social learning style benefit your customer education program? Read on to find out.
What is social learning?
Derived from a broad field within psychology, the concept of social learning starts from the premise that humans are social beings who learn best in a networked fashion.According to Albert Bandura, the progenitor of the Social Learning Theory, humans learn primarily by observing, modelling, and imitating the emotional responses, attitudes, and behaviors of other humans.
In the customer education space, social learning refers to the approach of leveraging and encouraging socialized practices that enforce and promote learning behavior. These practices, unlike other forms of learning, are not restricted to the individual, are not one-on-one, and are certainly not private.
In general, the social learning model of customer engagement involves incentivizing learners to do some of the following things:
Share on social media
Collaborate within communities or discussion groups
Earn public awards and badges to validate achieved knowledge
Share response to polls, and/or give star ratings
All of these actions display for other people (other potential learners) the types and styles of learning that are socially valuable.
The concept of social learning accepts that people imitate one another, and applies this basic truth to boosting customer engagement. As many businesses have discovered, encouraging the observation and evaluation of other members of a learning group can be a powerful tool.
The power of the social learning model
The social learning model is validated by how we see it working across the online space.
The obvious example is social media. If a friend posts about a new shampoo brand they’ve just discovered, you’re more likely to investigate this shampoo for yourself. You reacted to their social engagement, and have socially learnt something new (ie. the name of this game-changing shampoo brand). In customer education, we take this basic principle of human communication and apply it to the education space.
Take the talented customer education folk over at HubSpot. They offer certifications that enable people to display themselves as (for example) experts in inbound marketing. Learners complete the courses, and then proudly add the achievements to their LinkedIn profiles. This triggers a classic social learning network effect. Others see this certification is valuable, and they want it too. Suddenly it is the gold standard.
HubSpot receives an incredible amount of ancillary promotion that drives massive engagement with their audience. They have structured their program in such a way that – by harnessing social media, communities, and badges – the social learning model has kicked in and served up success.
In short: When you leverage the concept of social learning correctly, you can reach more learners and spread your content offerings more broadly without any extra effort. Your own learners generate promotion for you.
How Thought Industries facilitates social learning
A Vice President of Program Development speaking at COGNITION 2020, shared an example of how the Thought Industries platform facilitates the power of social learning:
“We've encouraged people to comment on each other’s posts and make sure that they're checking the notification box to receive notifications if people comment on their post. And then it's generating that email notification, so they're getting that nudge to get back into the learning and re-engage again. That's been a simple hack of the discussion page type that's been really good for engagement for us.
We also love the video upload feature… Get people uploading videos of themselves, and getting them to provide feedback on things like presence and message and some of the other communication techniques that we teach to one another, so that you have a truly social learning experience and they're learning by teaching as well.”
To give another powerful example: LinkedIn badges. Seismic, BSA, Zoominfo, and others have all used the Thought Industries platform to enable learners to earn certification badges that they can share and display on their LinkedIn profile. This action adds to the social capital of possessing the badge, and drives other learners to strive to match them. A classic example of the social learning approach in action.