Social learning (social pedagogy)

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Social learning (or social pedagogy) is learning that takes place at a wider scale than individual or group learning, up to a societal scale, through social interaction between peers. It may or may not lead to a change in attitudes and behaviour. More specifically, to be considered social learning, a process must: (1) demonstrate that a change in understanding has taken place in the individuals involved; (2) demonstrate that this change goes beyond the individual and becomes situated within wider social units or communities of practice; and (3) occur through social interactions and processes between actors within a social network (Reed et al., 2010).


The following text is from Reed et al. (2010), where references to other material cited here can be found:

Early work conceptualized social learning as individual learning that takes place in a social context and is hence influenced by social norms, e.g., by imitating role models (Bandura 1977). However, this conceptualization is not particularly useful, because most learning takes place in some social context. Recently, a different school of thought has arisen, as reflected in a number of articles in Ecology and Society (e.g., Pahl-Wostl 2006, Ison and Watson 2007, Mostert et al. 2007, Pahl-Wostl et al. 2007a,b, Steyaert and Ollivier 2007, Tàbara and Pahl-Wostl 2007, Pahl-Wostl et al. 2008) and elsewhere, including work by the authors of this article (e.g., Reed et al. 2006, Stringer et al. 2006, Prell et al. 2008; Newig et al. 2010, Matous and Todo 2015).

This literature conceptualizes, often implicitly, social learning as a process of social change in which people learn from each other in ways that can benefit wider social-ecological systems. Originating from concepts of organizational learning (Argyris and Schön 1978, 1996, Senge 1990, Wenger, 1998), this second school of thought is informed by social theories of learning, which define learning as active social participation in the practices of a community (Lave and Wenger 1991, Wenger 1998), and emphasize the dynamic interaction between people and the environment in the construction of meaning and identity (Muro and Jeffrey 2008). However, much of this literature ignores conceptual advancements in the education and psychology literature (Fazey et al. 2007), and there remains little consensus or clarity over the conceptual basis of social learning (Wals and van der Leij 2007). Furthermore, although dynamic interactions have been emphasized in social learning literature, only most recent work has attempted to explicitly model the dynamics of social learning in evolving social networks based on empirical evidence.[1]

One of the first courses in Social Learning is being offered at Columbia University Teachers College as peer to peer learning and sharing are becoming accepted as imperative in the learning process.

Towards a clearer understanding[edit]

Researchers have defined social learning in multiple, overlapping ways and confused social learning with the conditions and methods necessary to facilitate social learning or its potential outcomes. It is important to distinguish social learning as a concept from the conditions or methods that may facilitate social learning, e.g., stakeholder participation, and the potential outcomes of social learning processes, e.g., proenvironmental behavior. Building on this discussion, if learning is to be considered “social learning,” then it must:

i) Demonstrate that a change in understanding has taken place in the individuals involved. This may be at a surface level, e.g., via recall of new information, or deeper levels, e.g., demonstrated by change in attitudes, world views or epistemological beliefs; ii) Go beyond the individual to become situated within wider social units or communities of practice within society; and iii) Occur through social interactions and processes between actors within a social network, either through direct interaction, e.g., conversation, or through other media, e.g., mass media, telephone, or Web 2.0 applications.

As such, social learning may be defined as a change in understanding that goes beyond the individual to become situated within wider social units or communities of practice through social interactions between actors within social networks.

(Based on Reed et al., 2010)


The issue of how long social learning takes is important for the design of learning initiatives and policy interventions. The process of going beyond individual learning to a broader understanding situated in a community of practice can take some time to develop. A longitudinal study looking at an environmental group concerned about land degradation found that social learning was documented after approximately 1 year, but was initially restricted to an increased understanding of the problem without improved knowledge to address it. Further knowledge necessary to address the problem in focus emerged during the third year of the program. This suggests that learning initiatives could take around 3 years to develop sufficient new knowledge embedded in a community of practice to address complex problems.[2]

See also[edit]

New developments[edit]

With the growing use of social media, social learning is also more and more interpreted as learning with social media. Social Learning through open platforms like Facebook or closed platforms like Corporate Social Learning Network is growing up rapidly. Social Media can be used by employees to contribute, store, discover, search, learn and relearn, action, and review knowledge and skills, making hidden information and knowledge explicit. From an employee's or learner's point – this is also considered as "personal knowledge management" or "smart working" – e.g. using blogs to reflect their work, or using user generated content via platforms like Wikipedia or YouTube to learn on demand, e.g. when they have a question or problem. From an organizational point of view, social learning can be added as an element to formal learning like courses or curricula – to add discussions, sharing of experiences and lessons learned. Also social learning can be driven more stand-alone – e.g. to create Communities of Practice for similar groups like new employees (called onboarding), team or project team members or other similar groups. The goal for the organizations is to make learning more effective. The new connotation of social learning is also pushed by software companies who want to sell social learning tools (like SAP AG or Microsoft). However practitioners agree that social learning is more than social media.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Matous, P.; Todo, Y. (2015). "Exploring dynamic mechanisms of learning networks for resource conservation". Ecology and Society. 20 (2): 36. doi:10.5751/ES-07602-200236. 
  2. ^ Measham, T.G. (2013). "How long does social learning take?". Society and Natural Resources. 26 (12): 1468–1477. doi:10.1080/08941920.2013.799726. 

Further reading[edit]

The following are links that will help researchers locate additional information about editing social pedagogy.

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