Our brains are sieves. We forget most of what we hear during a lecture, panel or webinar – the traditional association learning experiences.

When we are actively engaged in our learning, for example, participating in a discussion, we remember 70% of the content after 14 days. When only reading, we retain 10%, and when only listening, we retain 20%. These statistics come from Jeff Hurt who says, “Active engagement improves learning.

But how many opportunities do members have to actively engage in education? Thanks to social learning, more than ever before.

What is social learning?

Borrowing from Jeff Hurt again, social learning is “participating with others to make sense of ideas whether in person or via social media tools.”

How is social learning different than what we’re used to? Chris Urena of CommPartners and Lindy Dreyer of Socialfish talked about social learning, and a cool new social learning technology, at the Avectra Users & Developers Conference (AUDC). Lindy said social learning differs in five ways.

1.  It’s participatory. A social learning experience is interactive. Audience members share knowledge and insights, like they did at the PM Poker session at AUDC or at EventCamp, a hybrid conference.

2.  It’s peer-to-peer. Social learning is collaborative. People learn by interacting with peers during formal roundtables or idea swaps, or informal chats online or at breakfast tables.

3.  It’s networked. Members, colleagues and event attendees make connections with others during their social learning experience.

4.  It can be formal or informal, taking place during a roundtable discussion at a conference or the #assnchat on Twitter.

5.  It comes in a bite, snack or meal. You can get a nibble of an idea in a tweet, more detail in a blog post, or a full day of immersion in a virtual conference.

Social learning meets social CRM

Chris introduced us to MemberSight, a social learning community platform or, for the more romantically inclined: “a marriage of virtual learning and social CRM, taking the best components of CommPartners eLearning services and MemberFuse’s powerful community tools.”

Online communities often flounder because there’s no content plan — not enough “meat” to attract members. When your community hosts social learning, members have a reason to spend time there before, during and after an event.

Social learning advice from Lindy

Ease into social learning. Start by introducing a few social elements into existing formal events, like webinars. Social learning requires a new skill set for presenters. They must learn how to build engagement into the design of the session. Provide training or pair them with facilitators who can assist with audience discussions and engagement before, during and after the event.

Social learning can be a social catalyst for your association. “If you can start by successfully integrating social media into your education, you’ll then be able to apply those skills towards expanding your efforts throughout your organization,” says Lindy.

Members who haven’t taken to social media can ease in with social learning. “The easiest place to successfully incorporate social media is around an event,” explains Lindy. “This is where the excitement before the event, the energy and enthusiasm during, and continued learning afterwards can be harnessed through social channels to extend the life of an educational experience. It’s an opportunity to show people who are new to social media what it can do to enhance their learning and keep them coming back for more.”

Want to learn more about social learning?

During the session, Lindy asked us to discuss our best learning experience in the past year. Think about yours. How many of the five characteristics of social learning were involved?

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer who is an advocate of making time, even if it’s your own time, to keep learning.