What is social learning? And why social learning?

Social learning is not simply learning in a social context.  This would make any interaction a learning process. What distinguishes social learning from other forms of learning is that the aim is to transform and change practice. It is also a case of learning about that which is not yet there.

Social learning is defined as a change in understanding that goes beyond the individual and spreads throughout communities or groups through social interactions between people (Reed et al. 2010). Arjen Wals (2007) suggests important ‘stages’ in the process of social learning where one critically analyses one’s own beliefs, norms and values (deconstruction), confronts those of others, and makes new meanings (reconstruction). Ison (2010) describes social learning as a process of socially constructing an issue with actors through which their understanding and practices change, leading to transformation of the situation through collective and concerted action. In the illustration, S2 refers to the situation, S3 to its modified solution, and Sn to the result of further iterations of modifying the situation (SLIM 2004). Social learning is thus a feature of knowing and doing and at the same time, an emergent property of the process to transform a situation (ibid.).

These perspectives on learning have significantly influenced AWARD’s way of working so that we are attentive to processes that foster a ‘safe’ learning space where people participate with each other to create new ideas or meanings. Most complex problem-solving around natural resources management requires action beyond the individual, making collective ‘meaning-making’ and collective action of central importance.

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