Social Learning vs. Remote Learning: Which Is Best?

In 2019, we are blessed with an astounding amount of information at our fingertips. Whatever the topic or area of study, we can learn new skills—so long as we put in consistent effort.

That said, there are some downsides to having access to this wealth of information. One of those happens to be the ambiguity over the best way to learn a new skill or subject area. While there are a variety of different ways to learn new material, it is unclear which method is best.

Two of those methods are social learning and remote learning. And you may be wondering: which method will best help me learn a particular subject?

There is no clear answer here. That said, social learning and remote learning do provide distinct advantages and disadvantages. You will want to consider both before settling for one method.

Social Learning vs. Remote Learning

Let’s start with some basic definitions. Social learning combines cognitive learning theory and behavioral learning theory. The basic idea behind social learning is that people learn from each other through observation, imitation, and modeling. One simple example of social learning is peer-to-peer training, where employees design and deliver trainings on particular topics or ideas. These trainings embrace collaborative learning. By sharing his or her knowledge with colleagues, an employee can educate their colleagues while also building closer personal relationships.

On the other hand, there is remote learning. The simple idea behind remote learning is that instructors and learners are not in the same physical location. Information is transmitted electronically and the learner can view the content either synchronously or asynchronously. Some examples of remote learning include webinars, video conferences, or even discussion boards.  

With these basic definitions in mind, it is clear that each method has its own advantages and disadvantages. As for social learning, one of the main advantages is that it facilitates engagement. Both the instructors and learners are in the same physical location, which makes it easier for both groups to collaborate and learn from each other. While remote learning can be synchronous, remote learning still has inherent barriers which can limit retention and engagement.

That said, this advantage of social learning can be one of its greatest weaknesses. This is because social learning often means that participants are in the same location. You have to be physically present to gain most of the positive attributes. While there have been some efforts to combine both social learning and remote learning, it still isn’t as effective as being in the same room and participating in social learning.

By contrast, remote learning allows anyone in the world to participate. Regardless of your location, you can learn from the best minds in virtually any subject matter. Convenience is another large factor, as asynchronous remote learning lets learners participate on their own time. But having said that, the lack of human interaction is a major detriment to remote learning. Even if there are chat boxes or other ways to interact with the instructor, learners can feel disconnected. This leads to a frustrating experience and less retention.

The Choice is Yours

Both social learning and remote learning have their advantages and disadvantages. It is difficult to say whether one is objectively better than the other.

Ultimately, you will need to weigh these pros and cons and make a decision. Whichever method you choose, we encourage you to stay engaged. Eliminate distractions and be fully present. Ask questions as necessary and don’t be afraid to participate. By going “all-in” and being enthusiastic about the learning opportunity, you will be in a much better position to retain what you learn.