Learning is a Social Experience

Learning is a Social Experience


Or why you’ve never completed that online course you downloaded!


How many of you have downloaded a course, and failed to start it, never mind complete it?

There has been a substantive growth in the provision of online training in recent decades. And Covid-19 has seen the desire for online learning to grow exponentially.   The vast majority of courses available are downloadable content, where the learner is able to complete the training, “in your own time and in the comfort of your own home”.  Self-paced learning sounds like a good idea in theory, but there is little evidence to show that they facilitate personal or professional development. Put simply, most people don’t start their course, never mind finish it.

According to Mike Weiss, in a $250 billion dollar industry, only 3-12% of learners complete courses. Business opportunity courses have a 3% completion rate. Harvard, Yale, and MIT are at 6% and Udemy, with 20 million students and 40,000 instructors, only see 8% completion rates.  Personal development industry courses have the highest completion at 12%.

For any adult educator, these rates are untenable.  If learning is the process of acquiring new understanding, knowledge, behaviours, skills, values, attitudes, and preferences, then such high rates of attrition suggest little learning is taking place.

So why do so few people invest their money but not undertake the course?  The assumption of this multi-billion-dollar industry is that learning is an individual process.  However, as theorists Vygotsky and Bandura have long established, learning is a social process.  It occurs through the dynamic interaction between people and the environment they are in, leading to the construction of meaning and identity. The process of learning a new behaviour starts by observing a behaviour, taking the information in, applying and testing the information and finally adopting that behaviour.

Evidence shows that when online platforms use social engagement and interaction in the learning process, success rates are substantially higher than self-paced learning.

For example, research by Stanford Professor Chuck Eesley shows that collaboration in online classes significantly improves learner engagement and course completion.  Regular and substantive student-instructor interactivity is a key determinant of quality in online education, leading to improved student satisfaction, learning and outcomes (George Mason University).  And from the perspective of the learner, researchers at Missouri University found that students perceived that social interaction improved their learning by enhancing their knowledge, and their critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

As we navigate the global shift to online educational platforms that Covid-19 demands, how can we incorporate the social experience of learning that is so vital for personal and professional development?

5 ways to incorporate social learning into online courses and training:

  1. Use platforms such as zoom to run live workshops that facilitate student and teacher interaction
  2. Utilize breakout rooms for dyad, triad and quad small group work between students
  3. Design exercises that enable learners to share experience, indigenous knowledge and reflective practice
  4. Structure courses in such a way that learners network, collaborate and exchange ideas to solve problems
  5. Create learning processes that facilitate learners to be deeply involved in mutually searching for understanding, meaning and solutions.

At Learning Communities Network, we embrace these principles in all of the courses we deliver.  The value of social learning was summed up by one of our recent participants: “First time with an online learning community. Very sceptical at first but absolutely loved it! It was so easy to learn and collaborate with other learners. Amazed by how connected you can feel in a virtual space”.

If you want to embrace the high impact and rich learning environment that social learning can provide for professional and personal development, then get in touch with us at www.learningcommunitiesnetwork.com

Siobhan Riordan MA, PG Cert is Director of Learning Communities Network.  Whilst Principal Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer at the University of East London, she designed the first BA in Social Enterprise in the world and the first postgraduate programme in Women’s Leadership.  She designed and developed the first Level 2 Award in Women Building Peace, accredited by Open Awards.  She has been creating personal and professional development courses for over 25 years.  With her eclectic training in Psychosexual Therapy, Group Dynamics and Leader of Sacred Circles, she brings an original approach to teaching and learning.  She lives in Wales, UK with her rescue dog Elsa.

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