Social Learning in a Virtual World

9 March 2021

In my final year at Cardiff University, I dropped out of my dissertation module.  It was a surprise – I’d elected to do it, I’d chosen a topic I was passionate about, I felt excited and motivated about the prospect – but when it came down to it, it just didn’t happen.  Thankfully, I could catch up on the marks I needed for my finals – and I graduated with a 2:1 – but I learnt something really valuable from that experience.  And that is – I am a social learner.  Without conversation, exploration, creative thinking and problem solving with my peers, I really struggled.  Even in my work now, though I enjoy autonomy and I can self-motivate – I still thrive on conversation with my colleagues and my creative approach will always be naturally collaborative and communal.

As we weather the Covid-19 pandemic, this is playing out within organisations across the globe.  Against a backdrop of uncertainty (personally and professionally) and as we figure out how we make the leap back to ‘normality’, we will need to continually seek out ways to bring our people ‘closer’ together.  We will need to invest in time together – to rediscover and reinforce the positive behaviours and culture that existed before Covid and empower individuals to find renewed purpose in what they’re doing through shared experience.

This doesn’t solely apply to the workplace either – I’m seeing this play out in my own home as now, like many working parents, I’ve been juggling work with home-schooling.   And what I see in my young daughter as really interested me.  Like many children in lockdown I imagine, she struggled with applying herself and staying focused on the work we’ve been set – she was easily distracted, and she missed her peers.  Her school introduced a 45-minute video call each morning with the teacher and class – made up of some taught content and some ‘conversation/chat’ social time.  The novelty of being able to see each other was such a thrill – and my daughter was beyond delighted to see her friends and her teachers again.

Once this was regularly happening, I noticed that my daughter’s ability to concentrate significantly improved.  Post-call, she applied herself better, she stayed focused and engaged and she seemed to find more purpose in what she was doing.  I’ve reflected a lot on why that might have been – and though I’m no psychologist, I feel that for her, seeing her peers and being able to talk, laugh and share time with them was the catalyst for change. She could suddenly see and understand that many of her peers were at their houses, just as she was, and that they were all experiencing home-school together.  That, I think, made her more receptive to her learning.

The experience of my daughter is what we replicate in our virtual and digital work. Our approach has always brought with it a unique and powerful ability to forge connections and build a safe space for people to think and challenge themselves and each other constructively – and that’s not different in the virtual world. Our virtual and digital learning encourages discussion, interaction and above all socialisation.   It’s people-centred, first and foremost – and it is focused on human experience, instinct, emotion and the intricacies of relationships – many of those things in Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ that we have been starved of throughout this pandemic.  Our work develops a sense of belonging – where teams can build and reinforce positive relationships and meaningful interactions through being encouraged to actively participate, not just sit and passively listen to a webinar. According to Maslow – these are some of the basic foundations which enable an individual to go on to achieve their potential or self-actualisation.

So – if your experience of virtual/digital learning, development and skills practice in lockdown has been limited, if you’re looking for development programmes that are interactive, engaging and different, or perhaps you know what you want to achieve but aren’t sure how to start – then please talk to us.  Through creativity, innovation and great partnerships with our clients – we’re really pushing the mantle with what’s possible and – happily – virtually anything is!

My thanks to Laura Rosenthal, Steps Learning Partner and Instructor Member of MHFA England, who shared so much great insight with me. 

Meet the Author