How is social learning measured

Measure social and informal learning?

Social and informal learning has drawn a lot of attention in recent years. For those responsible for education, this has brought new questions to the agenda:

  • To what extent and in what forms does informal learning actually take place?
  • Is it our job to shape social and informal learning in the company / organization?
  • Is it our job to support social and informal learning?
  • It is our job to create the framework for social and informal learning in the company / organization.

Another question that arises in this context is the following:

  • Is it our job to observe and evaluate social and informal learning? And if so, how can we do that?

An article by Randy Emelo in the current Chief Learning Officer issue (February 2014) looks into the last question asked about implementation (see reference below).
The starting point for his contribution are the results of the Towards Maturity Survey 2012/2013 and the observable gap between the goals associated with social media and social learning and the results achieved:

  • 95% of the companies surveyed want to use social media to promote the exchange of knowledge and good practice, but only 25% see themselves as successful in this;
  • 92% of the companies surveyed want to use social media in order to be able to react more quickly to changes in the business field, but only 25% see themselves as successful here;
  • 94% of the companies surveyed want to accelerate the application of new knowledge / new skills in the field of work, but only 23% see themselves as successful in this regard.

A first challenge with regard to the observation and evaluation of informal and social learning is to first find out what kind of learning activities takes place outside of the formally organized and clearly visible workshops, courses, trainings and the LMS-based use of eLearning. By definition, informal learning is difficult to observe. So those responsible for education have to interview the employees themselves - for example via an online area survey about their own informal and social learning activities. In his contribution, Emelo also mentions another way of collecting basic data on informal learning activities: “Micro-polls at the point of interaction”. This refers to short surveys (e.g. via small pop-up windows) where informal learning takes place or starts. So for example

  • when downloading or accessing materials (technical articles, documentation, checklists, etc.) via intranet pages or
  • when accessing portal pages, for example to internal coaching and mentoring offers.

A second fundamental challenge concerns the framework models that are used to plan and carry out evaluations. Can these be the same framework models as for formally organized learning? Saul Carliner, for example, argues that the established Kirkpatrick level model does not work in this area - precisely because learning is not the focus of the activity, no learning goals are defined, etc. (see an earlier post here on this blog). Emelo, on the other hand, sees the Kirkpatrick levels as a useful framework for evaluating informal learning on the basis of social media platforms. He cites a whole series of relevant questions and relates them (more or less clearly) to the Kirkpatrick levels:

  • Level 0, use, e.g .:
    - How many employees use (internal) social media platform (s) to support exchange and informal learning?
    - How often do employees access social media platforms?
    - How often do you ask questions, answer questions, provide content or rate posts / content?
  • Level 1, evaluation, e.g .:
    - How do users rate the available social media platform (s)?
    - How do users rate the content and resources that are made available or exchanged via the social media platform / s?
  • Level 2, learning success, e.g .:
    - Were new, relevant contacts made with employees, experts, etc.?
    - To what extent did the exchange via the platform (s) / in the social networks lead to new knowledge?
  • Level 3, transfer success, e.g .:
    - To what extent could the newly recorded information / could the new knowledge be used in the field of work?
  • Level 4, effects on performance, e.g .:
    - Do the informal exchange and learning activities contribute to increasing one's own performance?
    - Can other employees be recommended in good conscience to also take part in informal exchange and learning activities via the platform (s) / networks?

So there are a number of questions that can be asked that can be used to approach the evaluation of informal and social learning activities. An important limitation is that all of these questions are ultimately only subjective assessments. The assessment of these subjective assessments with regard to their informative value and reliability is then a next task and challenge ...

Emelo, R. (2014). Social, informal learning can be measured. Chief Learning Officer, 2014(2), 18–21.