Blog Post

Social, Collaborative, and Community-Based Learning: Where Do They Fit Within Your Organizational Education Strategy?

Robyn Hazelton
July 14, 2022
building blocks

Think back to kindergarten. How often did you observe how your peers stacked blocks or completed an art project and then tried to do it the same way? Forming knowledge by watching others is social learning in its most basic form. 

Social learning is:

  • Learning through observation
  • Learning through collaboration 
  • Learning through community engagement and feedback 

These different forms of learning can happen in person or online. 

a chart describing the three types of social learning in the workplace

At Intellum, we believe that organizational education strategies must include opportunities to socialize, collaborate, and connect. Why? Because community engagement elicits behavior change and improves learner outcomes. 

Continue reading to learn about:

The Evolution Of Social Learning and Collaborative Learning

People, including psychologists Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, have talked about social and collaborative learning concepts since the early 1900s. However, the discussion related solely to in-person, in-classroom learning back then. 

The term “social learning theory” was coined by psychologist Albert Bandura in 1977. Social learning theory posits that people learn by observing others. There is also an element of behavior change involved; social learning may lead to behavior change. For example, if a person repeatedly observes a peer using negotiation skills to get what they want, they may adopt similar behavior. 

Researchers found that people acquire knowledge through collaboration with peers, teachers, or other experts. Real-time performance feedback plays a vital role in collaborative learning as it promotes behavior change

The theory of Connectivism, published by George Siemens in 2004, emphasizes learning as a collaborative process. Siemens wrote that “Knowledge that resides in a database needs to be connected with the right people in the right context in order to be classified as learning.” 

a chart describing the principles of connectivism

Over time, educational institutions adopted community-based learning strategies to enrich the learning experience. For example, students might visit a historical figure’s childhood home and then return to the classroom for structured reflection and learning activities that tie the in-community experience to academic course objectives. 

Initially, community meant the physical community where learners lived. But, the concept of community has grown to include online communities, which further enrich learning by allowing for a wider diversity of experience and thought. 

Today, technology that enables virtual social and collaborative learning—plus community engagement—is now at the forefront of the conversation in schools and the workplace. 

Why Online Community-Based Learning Is a Workplace Must 

After quarantine and isolation, people desperately crave human-to-human interactions. However, not everyone has gone back to the office. Many interactions that used to happen in person now occur online—exacerbating the disconnect. 

Research shows that social connectedness is essential to employee well-being and overall workplace happiness. Therefore, companies need to support their employees as humans while keeping them productive. Social and collaborative learning within a community environment is powerful in accomplishing both—and it’s much more dynamic than learning alone.

Glint data shows that people chose “opportunities to learn and grow” as the No. 1 driver of positive work culture. 

Innovative companies realize that they can build a learning culture and see improved learner outcomes by rallying the troops around a shared mission.

a screenshot from a social post describing c.s. lewis's definition of friendship

The mission can be the company mission—or, on a smaller scale, a formalized employee training where a small group trains as a cohort and completes a project together. 

Benefits of Community-Based Learning

Online communities stimulate learning and improve workplace culture, but the benefits don’t stop there. Online community-based learning:

  • Enhances the “stickiness” of knowledge: Science has shown us that cohort-based group work makes topics more memorable. 
  • Provides a safe place to practice new skills: Within communities, you can divide learners into cohorts. These are especially helpful for manager training. Managers can practice and role play with other managers in their cohort; unlike the real world, it’s a safe place to fail. 
  • Supports customer engagement: Online communities—such as an organizational education platform used by companies to educate customers—strengthen the user’s identification with the brand, improving engagement. They also influence future intentions and thus can reduce churn. 
  • Increases product adoption: Literature suggests that “higher levels of participation” with an online learning platform will increase product adoption. Simply being a long-term member of a brand community increases the likelihood of adopting a new product. 
  • Decreases likelihood of switching brands: Additionally, according to the same study, belonging to and participating in online communities can reduce the chance that customers will adopt new products from competing brands. 
  • Decreases support tickets: Customer-facing discussion forums allow customers to post and respond to other customers’ questions. Research has found that this type of peer-to-peer problem-solving leads to decreased use of traditional customer support. (As compared to static knowledge bases, discussion forums have a more significant impact.)
  • Improves employee engagement: Community-based learning creates a supportive environment where employees can chat and collaborate—regardless of location. Employees build and strengthen relationships with coworkers outside their normal sphere of influence, increasing feelings of connectivity and well-being. 
  • Improves innovation: When employees share ideas online in peer-to-peer learning communities, they generate better ideas and are more innovative. 

When and How To Implement Online Community-Based Learning 

Ideally, you would build your employee, partner, or customer education strategy from the ground up with social and collaborative learning in mind; it shouldn’t be an add-on or an after-thought. 

However, many education leaders inherit an existing education strategy that doesn’t include a human element. In this case, you would be improving the current education program using technology that enables online community-based learning.

Adoption will vary person to person when implementing any new technology (such as the Intellum Organizational Education Platform). 

According to Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation Model, people fall into five categories: Innovators, Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, & Laggards. Innovators, Early Adopters, and Early Majority can adjust to technology changes quickly, but Late Majority and Laggards are less amenable to change.

diffusion of innovation model graph

Some industries will have more employee Innovators and Early Adopters (a technology startup, for example). Other industries will have more employee Laggards (academia, for example). 

Late Majority and Laggards

Let’s pretend you work in academia or have a customer base that doesn’t keep up with new technology. When it comes to using new software, Laggards don’t know how, don’t like it, and don’t understand why the change is necessary.

There are various ways to aid in the change/adoption process: 

  • Gauge beliefs about technology before implementation and work to help people conquer any fears that they’ll “never be able to learn new technology.”
  • Provide lots of support: knowledge base articles, live or on-demand training, workshop, or CSM support. Make sure it’s clear and concise. 
  • Don’t tell people they “have to” adopt the new technology or moderate the new community; that’s when you get the most push-back. Instead, explain the benefits and let them feel they’re opting in.
  • Boost the voices of internal Innovators and Early Adopters to shine a positive light on the change.
  • Share case studies of similar companies who have used the technology with great success.

Innovators and Early Adopters

Let’s pretend you work at a technology startup or have a highly-technical customer base. When rolling out a new organizational education platform or other online community-based learning tools, you don’t need to teach people basic things like “how to leave a comment in a community forum.” Therefore, you won’t need to create as much support content. 

Employee Inclusion Is Key to Adoption Success

Research suggests that companies should include employees in the community (i.e., community managers and moderators). Based on social constructivism, employee involvement leads to an increased connection to the organization and identification with the community. Additionally, employee involvement can help ensure information is accurate. 

But not everyone can be a manager or moderator. You can allow the larger employee base to have a say in the implementation via observations, trial periods, and sandbox environments. 

Why Learning Must Happen Inline

For best results, learning must happen inline; users should not jump between tools, apps, or windows. 

Here are three reasons why learning must happen inline:

  1. People—particularly Laggards—don’t want to click seven buttons to navigate from point A to point B (e.g., “Join our Slack channel to participate in this training cohort”). 
  1. When learning’s not inline, it increases the cognitive load. A learner has to think: “OK, I have to open my phone or another tab, navigate to Slack, then switch back and forth between Slack and the course.”

  2. Centralizing learning on a single platform decreases the cognitive load, giving users more processing space to digest the learning materials. 

The Intellum platform was purpose-built to support inline social, collaborative, and community-based learning for employees, customers, and partners. It’s a single destination for accessing live and on-demand content plus interacting with others.

intellum platform screenshot

What Community-Based Learning Looks Like In Practice

As we mentioned at the start of this article, community-based learning blends social learning (observation/instruction), collaborative learning (group work), and community engagement. Therefore, your organizational education strategy should include a mix of the following content and experiences (in addition to traditional learning content such as courses, quizzes, and other assessments):

On-Demand Content

Social learning is about observation, and you should offer on-demand content and instruction that users can consume independently and asynchronously. 

Examples include:

  • Client onboarding tutorials
  • Product training videos
  • Knowledge management/knowledge base
  • Skills-based initiatives
  • Certifications

Live Events

Live online events might feature learning through independent observation—but they can also be collaborative experiences where people learn through group work. 

Examples include:

  • Webinars
  • Live instruction
  • Virtual cohort-based training 
  • Large meetings 
  • User conferences


Gamification helps users build their online reputation, increasing motivation and posting within the community. 

Examples include: 

  • Badges
  • Leaderboards 
  • Awards
  • Challenges

A Sense of Belonging

As we mentioned earlier, people crave belonging within a group. Learning professionals can create belonging—and a sense of community—for learners using technology.

Examples include:

  • Audience segmentation
  • Cohorts
  • Group-specific branding
  • Group-specific content experiences
  • Persona-based user journeys

The Human Element

Like creating a sense of belonging among learners, you can use a social tool as part of your organizational education strategy to drive human connection and engagement. 

Examples include:

  • Commenting on posts 
  • File sharing
  • Emojis
  • Tagging users
  • 1:1 and group chat

The Cycle of Learning

Learning alone provides the benefit of learning at your own pace. Then, of course, you can take as much time as you need or re-watch a training video if you need to. But while independent “social learning” is an integral part of any organizational education strategy, it’s only one component. 

Organizational education strategies must also allow users to work collaboratively and learn with others. Various studies show learning outcome improvements among programs that integrate social components (e.g., a community, discussion posts, etc.). For example, segment learners into cohorts, build a community around a common mission or provide time for group work. 

In reality, one benefits the other.

a wheel showing independent learning and collaborative learning

When learners have extra time to absorb the information on their own, they can come to their group and lift others up by sharing their understanding. And then, others can impart knowledge to the individual, which they can use as part of their lexicon when making sense of future information. 

About the Author

Robyn Hazelton headshot
Robyn Hazelton
Vice President of Marketing and Growth
Robyn is the VP of Marketing and Growth at Intellum and helps to ensure that every interaction an individual has with the brand is as awesome as possible. An experienced and trusted leader with a history of consistently impacting revenue, she's always talking about funnel management and biased toward action.