Constructivism 6: Social Learning

As I will discuss in a later article in this series about Constructivism, I believe that knowledge working is intimately bound within the organisational context: knowledge workers use their skills and experience to innovate solutions to real-world problems.

What is Social Learning?

One of the primary conditions of knowledge working is the social learning aspect. Knowledge workers typically collaborate with their peers, whether they are individuals with similar skill sets, such as application development teams working in an agile software development environment, or in project teams which require knowledge workers from different disciplines (technical architects, business analysts, and product consultants, for example) to cooperate in the implementation of the solutions on a customer site. Within any given organisation then, knowledge workers evolve a culture – what Bates and Plog (1990) define as

the system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviours, and artifacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted through learning [my italics]


…to enable groups to perform tasks within the context of the organisation. Recognition of the social and interactive nature of knowledge working is one of the key drivers for the live component of the “Information Sessions” I developed for one organization I am associated with (this will be discussed in more detail in a later series). At any given time, individual workers in an organisation have more-or-less tacit and explicit knowledge on a given topic than their co-workers, and collectively a very high level of expertise across a range of topics exists.

Social Constructivist Learning Environment

So, one of the goals of the Information Sessions is to create an learning environment that integrates Jonassen’s eight characteristics for Constructivist learning and where an individual’s expertise could manifest itself through various artifacts of learning (presentations, demonstrations and so on) and through debate and discussion be transmitted to their peer group.

Social Learning Image source: https://www.td.org/insights/how-to-be-a-catalyst-for-social-learning

Social Learning

This combination of artifacts and dialogue creates a socially mediated environment where new knowledge is constructed for both the individual learner and for the group; as John F. Kennedy asserted in 1962 “a rising tide lifts all boats” (Oxford Library of Words and Phrases, 1981, p.141).

This methodology aligns with the Social Constructivist approach to learning. As Lev Vygotsky, one of social constructivism’s main proponents asserted learning is mediated through social interaction of learners and what Driscoll (1994) called More Knowledgeable Others (MKOs) – more experienced peers, mentors, instructors and so on. At any point in the learning process, the learner experiences threes states:

  1. Knowledge, skills and tasks already learned, that can be performed independently by the learner
  2. those that cannot be performed even with help
  3. those that fall between the two extremes – activities that can be performed with help from others

Next: More on Social Learning 



Bates, D, G. & Plog F. (1990) Cultural Anthropology. 3rd ed. Berkshire, McGraw-Hill College

Brown, J. S. Collins, C. & Duguid (1989) Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning [Internet] Educational Researcher 18(1), pp. 32-42, Jan-Feb 1989. Available from: http://www.johnseelybrown.com/Situated%20Cognition%20and%20the%20culture%20of%20learning.pdf [Accessed January 12th 2013]

Collins, J., Le Cornu, R., Peters, J. (2003) What are the characteristics of constructivist learning cultures? Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, 11-13 September 2003. [INTERNET] Available from: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/00003347.htm [Accessed 12th April 2018]

Exclusive Interview with Professor David Jonassen (2001) IN: elearningpost [Internet] Available from: http://www.elearningpost.com/articles/archives/
[Accessed 12th April 2018]

Oxford Library of Words and Phrases, Vol. 1. (1981). Oxford University Press

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