Why and How We Should Learn Together

September 17, 2019 by David Šturm

I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think. (Socrates)

One day I came across this quote by Socrates and it made me think whether it’s true, and if yes, why and how do we even learn anything? Quite a complex thinking pattern started in my head, especially for the early morning when I started to write this blog post. :)

At first, I thought that this quote is going to take me down the rabbit hole of research of all the possible learning theories and approaches. And it did, for a while. But I knew that I wanted to focus on social learning or, in other words, on how we learn together. In my mind, learning in groups, from peers or while socializing, is the best, most effective and pleasant way to gain new knowledge, new insights and new understanding.

Hereby, I have no intention to undermine the importance of professors and lecturers who share invaluable knowledge and experience. Their role in getting us thinking is crucial. I would just like to stress that the thinking of the learner should be in the center and shared with others.

The traditional model of teaching is portrayed as one-way communication from the teacher to the students. Studies show that teachers do 90% of the talking in the classroom and a typical student would say, “Talk, talk , talk is all that teachers do…” I had pretty much the same experience all the way up from the first grade to college.

Later on, I had a chance to work in an environment that supported interactive approach to learning and encouraged learning in groups. From then on, I strongly support collaborative and engaging approaches to learning.

Let us first define social learning. Broadly and simply speaking, social learning is learning through being with others. When trying to define this notion, it is impossible to ignore the social learning theory of Albert Bandura. His theory explains learning process and social behavior by proposing that new behaviors can be acquired by observing and imitating others. 

"Learning would be exceedingly laborious, not to mention hazardous, if people had to rely solely on the effects of their own actions to inform them what to do. Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modelling: from observing others, one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions, this coded information serves as a guide for action." – Albert Bandura, Social Learning Theory, 1977

One of the main points of the theory is learning through modelling others’ behaviors and in order to learn, there are four important aspects that must be present:

  • Attention – the ability to observe.
  • Retention – understanding and remembering.
  • Reproduction – the ability to reproduce.
  • Motivation – being motivated to reproduce behaviors.

In addition, social learning is influenced by three interconnected factors that are nicely summarized in the model below.



Triadic Reciprocity model (A. Bandura)

This model shows that learning depends on different factors and their interaction. 

Learning about the social learning theory and the triadic reciprocity model got me thinking.

All these factors are present also in group learning, contributing to the effectiveness of learning together:

  • Knowing each other – it is important that people who will learn together know each other as much as possible. 
  • Psychological safety – it is crucial for people to understand that they can be themselves and share their views and knowledge. 
  • Environment – it is important to build an environment where people feel comfortable and are enabled to learn.

At the Center of Excellence in Finance, we follow these approaches as we believe that learning should be participatory and learner-centric. We take time to get to know our learners and we give them opportunities to connect and get to know each other. In our face-to-face events, we use icebreakers and energizers to connect people, encourage learners to work in groups, and use coffee breaks as a great time to network. Networking and socializing should be a big part of a learning experience.

We bring together many different people from many different places so that they can learn together. It is crucial that we project a feeling of safety, openness and mutual respect. Our facilitators use different approaches, so that everybody has a chance to voice their opinion and a constructive conversation can be held. That is when the learning is at its best.

Last but not least, the environment where people learn should support that as much as possible. At minimum, it must not get in the way of learning. At the CEF, we have designed a modern, comfortable and cozy learning space that spurs creativity and efficiency. The classrooms enable us to share, interact and capture ideas. 

Social learning, or as I like to put it, learning together is the most effective tool for learning. I believe that when done right, it is also the most pleasant and rememberable learning experience. And it can be done right by focusing on three important factors: knowing each other, psychological safety, and the learning environment.

Reach out to us and we can further discuss the social learning aspects.

To come back to Socrates, I believe that shared experiences and information are the ones that really make you think.

As online space is becoming more and more important in connecting us and enabling social learning, my colleague Urška explored the relationship between social media and learning. Keep posted for her upcoming blog.


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