The social aspect of learning

The social aspect of learning
Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan,  
Guidelines for Using Groups Effectively, compiled by Chad Hershock and adapted by Stiliana Milkova Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan,  
The Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning  
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

One of the key elements of learning is the social component. There are many theories that review and analyse it, and, no matter the focus, they all agree that social interactions and socially constructed meanings are key to learning. People learn from and with others, they build on each other’s experiences and understanding, they construct shared meaning, they learn behaviours and skills by observing others, they take part in communities of practice that influence their identities. 

According to research results, when people learn collaboratively in small groups, they learn more, remember the information better and longer, and are more satisfied with the learning process (Guidelines for Using Groups Effectively Compiled by Chad Hershock and adapted by Stiliana Milkova Center for Research on Learning and Teaching).

The group of participants in your training is more than the sum of individuals who attend your sessions. There is actually one additional participant: the group itself. And the group has an incredible power of fostering learning through visible or implied mechanisms and dynamics. Our role as a trainer is to support this power and to make it work in such a way that it is integrated in our approach, whether in face-to-face or online activities.

Implications for training

Consequently, in our trainings, we should not strive to create an artificial learning environment in which people learn individually, separated by their colleagues, from their previous experience, social and professional practice. This does not imply that individual study time is not important. However, it is essential that we complement it with the integration of the social component in the learning process. We can do this by using methods that involve group construction of meaning (debate, sharing of experience and perspectives, collaborative tasks, group work to solve problems, etc), as well as the integration of information in already existing constructed meanings and practices (by fostering a context in which participants bring to the table these aspects and reflect on how the new acquired knowledge, skills, or values fit with the pre-existing systems they are operating in).

Food for thought!


- How can you ensure a positive learning environment?

- How can you support the group in creating meaningful relations between its members?

- What can you do to support collaborative learning in your trainings?

- How can you explore and include the wisdom of the group?

- How can you grant space to your trainees to learn from one another?