So what is Social Learning?

Posted by sustainable on January 11, 2012

It was summer 2009 or thereabouts and I was in the last stage of my PhD working on my final chapter ‘High levels of participation in conservation projects enhance learning’ and trying to work out if the learning I had noted in my research could be defined as social learning.

But what exactly does the phrase ‘social learning’ mean? Some kind of cross collaboration? Participation? Learning in a social setting? It was hard to work out despite the many papers I had ploughed through. So at an Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability pub lunch Mark (Reed) and I were sat together and we found ourselves spending the whole meal discussing the concept and comparing notes. As the year progressed we joined with others to share ideas and research the concept, culminating in our 2010 paper ‘what is social learning?

In our paper we write:

‘Social learning is often conflated with other concepts such as participation and proenvironmental behavior, and there is often little distinction made between individual and wider social learning. Many unsubstantiated claims for social learning exist, and there is frequently confusion between the concept itself and its potential outcomes. This lack of conceptual clarity has limited our capacity to assess whether social learning has occurred, and if so, what kind of learning has taken place, to what extent, between whom, when, and how. This response attempts to provide greater clarity on the conceptual basis for social learning.We argue that 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.

A clearer picture of what we mean by social learning could enhance our ability to critically evaluate outcomes and better understand the processes through which social learning occurs. In this way, it may be possible to better facilitate the desired outcomes of social learning processes.’

What is Social Learning? Resilience 2011 presentation

View more presentations from Aberdeen CES