Learning & Development specialists put a lot of time and effort into developing the best training programs, yet they often fail to have the desired results. There are multiple reasons that lead to this situation, the most common one being that they are not well adjusted to the needs of the learners.

Sometimes the assessments done prior to designing the programs are not thorough enough, other times managers prove to be somewhat oblivious to the real learning gaps within their teams and ask for modules that don’t necessarily fit.

However, the major problem with corporate education programs is that they often disregard a very important and simple aspect: the natural way in which the human brain works while learning. Neuroscience has advanced greatly and it provides great clues about how the mind operates and how information acquisition happens.

Learning from others, or observational learning

One of the most important aspects that have lately been researched with spectacular results is observational learning. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, this is a method of learning that consists of observing and modeling another individual’s behavior, attitudes or emotional expressions.

Although it is commonly believed that the observer will copy the model, American psychologist Albert Bandura stressed that individuals may simply learn from the behavior rather than imitate it. Observational learning is a major component of Bandura’s social learning theory.

He also emphasized that four conditions were necessary in any form of observing and modeling behavior: attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation. It is the most natural method of learning as it’s what children do to acquire all the skills and behaviors they need to function in society.

Yet it does not work only with children. If nowadays an adult person needs to find out how to do something (bake an apple pie, for example) he or she will most probably turn to the internet and search for videos that illustrate how the delicious fruit filled pastry comes to be.

This natural tendency of learning from others holds great potential for corporate training and development. There are several ways of capitalizing on it.

Enterprise Social Networks (ESN)

Applicant shadowing and training on the job

One easy method of getting applicants to figure out what the job they want is really about and how they would fit in the team is to allow them to shadow current employees for a few hours or even an entire day.

It very often happens that people find out only on their first week that what they thought when reading the job description does not match with reality. This can cost some money and a lot of effort from the recruiting team so it’s better if people figure out whether something suits them or not before signing any contracts.

Furthermore, the feedback of a more experienced employee can be very helpful in making a hiring decision.

Once onboard, the new hire can benefit from training on the job from the same person they had shadowed during the interviewing period. Not only does that take some of the new job jitters away but establishes a foundation of trust that can prove very helpful in speeding up the onboarding process.

Mixing observational learning with hands-on learning is a highly effective (and cost efficient) combination. Learning job tasks by watching experienced employees gives new hires the opportunity to ask questions and request that their trainers show them certain tasks multiple times until it’s all clear and they feel comfortable with taking the lead.

Social learning through networks

Social learning occurs pretty much all the time these days. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Skype, online encyclopedias and group discussion boards are just some of the more popular social media applications being employed today. Collaboration technologies such as webinars and virtual instructor-led training provide additional opportunities for peer-to-peer learning.

This is why within the workplace, L&D departments are often incorporating social learning into their programs. They are motivated not only by the demands of tech-savvy Millennials, but by opportunities to improve employee retention rates and lower training costs. Companies can only benefit when informal content from employees contains useful ideas and just-in-time solutions to problems not addressed in formal curricula.

The key to social learning networks is learning through collaboration with colleagues. Recent technology allows for people from all corners of the world to communicate and share. Some of the most beneficial are conversations that feature story telling and problem solving of workplace challenges.

How Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) works

Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) is meant to enable teams and team environments to stay competitive and collaborative while remaining relevant in today’s socially-connected life. They enable employers, employees, business partners, and even customers to participate in conversations either through status updates, commenting, or simply following up on communication streams.

These platforms can be used for real-time collaboration where users can post and follow up on progress reports, chats, and group contributions on projects. Communication on these networks can be either vertical or horizontal as anyone, regardless of rank, can both initiate and participate in a conversation.

Enterprise social networks can also include spaces where employees and partners can generate knowledge bases in form of wikis and blog posts related to their areas of expertise. Users can even invite specific individuals or groups to contribute and participate in the conversations when they deem necessary.

Similar to public social networks, users can also usually create and manage task lists and to-do lists, update their calendars, follow friends, “like” and share content, as well as receive notifications when things happen that are most important to them.

Learning is vital for any organization to stay ahead and even more important, not to fall behind its competitors. As global and hierarchical boundaries tend to fade there is a growing need for tools that make knowledge flow and create learning organizations with empowered employees.

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Author: Raluca C

Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.