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LAS is an award-winning provider of elearning consultancy, design, development and training services in the UK and internationally. 

Established in 2005 as LearningAge Solutions, we work with some of the best known organisations in the world to boost their performance through the innovative use of learning technologies. Working in partnership with our customers, we draw on proven principles from human behaviour, how people learn and how the brain works to create impactful digital learning solutions with real return on investment.

About Tess Robinson

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Tess is a director of LAS. She has worked in a learning environment for over twenty years. First, as a senior manager in universities, moving into digital learning ten years ago.

The importance of social learning for remote workers

By Tess Robinson
Posted 24 April 2020

10 years ago I became a home-worker with a remote team. It was a huge change for me. My previous job had been in a big, open-plan office surrounded by hundreds of people. My job was very sociable and interactive, I looked after 150k alumni for a university, putting on events, networking, mentoring, communications and working with every department in the place. Going from that to sitting at home on my own was frankly a bit of a shock. It’s a situation that an awful lot of people will be finding themselves in at the moment. 

We humans are social beings by evolution. Cooperation with each other has ensured our survival over the past 200,000 years. As Dr Emiliana Simon-Thomas from University ofCalifornia Berkeley says, human beings are an ultra-social species and our nervous systems expect to have others around us. Not having a social support system affects us physiologically, increasing our levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Covid-19 isolation and lock-down is, therefore, for many, a massive challenge.  

Many organisations have had to quickly transition to online learning in order to serve their remote workforce. My children, for example, are being served a bunch of quizzes and pdfs online, now that their school is shut. Although these are useful media in their own right, it’s important not to forget how important social learning is to humans and to also build that in to your blend. A purely solitary learning experience is simply not as engaging as one that allows for collaboration and knowledge-sharing. That social interaction is even more important when your learners might be feeling isolated by their enforced segregation. 

So how can you build social learning in quickly and effectively. Here’s some ideas: 

1. Make webinars and virtual classrooms collaborative. Firstly, turn on everyone’s video to make it more human. Build in interaction, such as asking for ideas or answers to a question. Ask people to share ideas via the chat or turn on audio selectively so people can discuss them further. We ran a virtual classroom recently where we asked participants to put their ideas on atopic into the chat and then used sticky note functionality to group everyone’s comments around themes.

2. Create a WhatsApp group around an area or topic where ideas and resources can be shared or a webinar/virtual classroom can be further discussed. Facilitate these groups if necessary, by posing questions or asking for advice to encourage people to join in.

3. Use your organisation’s existing channels, like Yammer, if possible. Communicate, communicate, communicate and reward participation. Allow people to say when they feel things aren’t working well and encourage the suggestion of solutions.

4. Buddy people up virtually – peer, mentor/mentee or reverse mentoring all work just as well as virtual relationships as face-to-face. They give people the feeling of being supported or helping someone else which is all good psychologically.

5. Try virtual Action Learning Sets. These are small groups of 5-7 people who are usually at a similar level of responsibility. They meet on a regular basis – you could use Zoom or Skype-  to find ways of addressing real life challenges and to support their own learning through structured questioning with a facilitator.

6.  As well as these more ‘learning-based’ interventions, it’s also a good idea to find ways to allow for water-cooler moments for your remote workers – for example; a 15 min Zoom coffee where people can talk about anything that’s not work-related or a Skype team chat channel. Fulfilling social needs in this way will lead to a more cohesive, satisfied team who will come out of this situation even stronger. An interesting exercise to try, is to ask people to share something unusual about themselves – you will definitely be surprised!  

Under normal circumstances, the culture of your organisation will have a big impact on people’s willingness to share. However, the regular rules have been put on hold at the moment, so you may find that the human need to be social overcomes some of the usual cultural constraints. This is a great opportunity to get to know your people better and really get them involved in their learning. Borrow some of these ideas, experiment, try different things and find what works for your team and organisation.

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