person sitting alone in auditorium, representing opposite of social learning

Social media is raising a generation of learners: what can L&D learn and apply from this trend?

87% of businesses state they have noticed skill gaps or are expecting them within the next few years. Building a culture that enables and encourages learning, knowledge exchange and behaviour change will be key to filling that gap.

Social learning would seem to be a useful tool in building that culture, but it can be hard to harness its power in a corporate environment. However, in the “real world” social learning has exploded on social media and offers an excellent model as to how we can translate that into a workplace digital environment and lead to lasting behaviour change.

A successful model

Trends spread on social media unlike anything else. One week, everyone will be folding burritos a certain way, the next we are making tops out of scarves.

Sound familiar? That’s because it’s a brilliant example of social learning in action! This theory highlights the importance of imitating others’ attitudes and their behaviours. It also states that learning can occur simply through observation or direct instruction. And social learning emphasises the learner’s internal cognitive processes which take place in a social context, ie. peer pressure, social-norm bias etc.

So, looking at social media and Gen Z, what lessons can we learn from the digital natives and how can these be applied in a workplace context?

  1. Understanding the importance of learning

    LinkedIn Learning’s workplace report shows that Gen Z are learning more than ever, with 76% stating they believe that learning is key to a successful career. And having grown up in the digital age, with content at their fingertips, it’s no surprise that they are so good at it. Encouraging social learning in a close-knit group, not unlike what we can observe on social media, can foster an openness to learning in the corporate world, particularly, if the value of the new behaviour is clearly communicated and beneficial to the individual or the community.

  2. An open mind

    But understanding importance and putting that into action are two different things. Gen Z is not afraid to have their practices and worldviews challenged; key competencies that make up a successful learning culture. But that is not always true for everyone – and people may not even be aware. Often, our internal bias serves to re-confirm what we already believe about the world and lets us slip back into past behaviours. In our recent webinar, Moving learners from thought to action: Turning the intention to acquire new skills, into reality, we discussed how these human biases affect workplace training and employee self-development, but also provided a three step plan to overcome them.

    desk with desktop and laptop, camera and plant

  3. Sharing and teaching others

    As well as a willingness to be taught, Gen Z also demonstrate an enthusiasm for teaching others that is unparalleled. 80% of Gen Zers say they like to learn with others and 52% say they like to help their friends learn.

    Amongst other things, this has led to a rise in producing closed captions for videos where the platform does not automatically generate them, to increase accessibility for hearing impaired users. We are currently also seeing a rise in the use of tone indicators such as “/j” meaning “joking” to ease communication for neurodivergent users. These behaviours all show a clear desire to provide value and contribute to the community at large.

    This impulse to teach and be taught as part of a community needs to be at the heart of the learning culture we are building in the workplace. We can build an engaged, innovation-driven workforce by recognising an individual’s contributions whilst also promoting the contributions of others at the same time.

  4. Positive reinforcement

    But possibly the biggest lesson we can take from social media is the continual positive feedback it provides in the form of likes, followers etc. This keeps the users engaged and feeds into their willingness to learn and reflect, in order to receive further positive reinforcement. But it also fosters flexibility. Trends come and go, so to remain relevant, new behaviours have to be picked up and adapted quickly.

    This need for adaptability is critical within L&D and the future of work. The average lifetime of a skill is now just five years, so an adaptable and agile workforce will be key if businesses want to remain competitive. Though social media does this on a much larger scale, we can provide positive reinforcement to learners that continually engage with learning material and encourage peer-to-peer exchange. Putting the infrastructure in place that facilitates this, will be even more important as we shift into the next normal and the new era of hybrid working. To find out more on how to facilitate this, watch our webinar Learning Culture: worth the investment or just a fad?.


Of course, there are other motivators behind the growth of social media. But that does not discredit the patterns we can see and the lessons we gain from it. If we want to build an engaged workforce, establishing a learning culture filled with self-determined learners is an essential part. But appealing to our Gen-Z learners – and learning from them – is going to be key in ensuring we can continue to drive business growth and innovation.

Want to explore how you can leverage Gen Z and social learning within your organisation’s L&D strategy? Get in touch, we love to talk!