Learning and development is rapidly changing. More and more, informal learning initiatives are focusing on knowledge-sharing and workplace support, often as part of the 70-20-10 approach. There are many reasons companies are shifting toward user-generated learning, and there are also many implementation strategies.
Based on conversations with many training managers over the past two years, there are four main reasons for implementing user-generated learning, based on four categories of people.
- The Visionaries: For some training managers, user-generated learning fits into a broader vision of change in corporate learning. They want to move from a top-down approach to bottom-up approach and shift from learning management to learning facilitation. Content generated by subject matter experts (SMEs) is critical to this transition. It’s relatively easy for SMEs to create videos and more structured content (e.g., courses, quizzes and curated documents). In fact, these managers see user-generated learning as a driver for changing their organizations’ learning culture. It’s a simple first step on the path toward change.
- The On-Demands: The old model of creating centralized learning content is much too slow. With fast-paced change, taking three to six months to create a training course doesn’t work. Companies are turning to user-generated learning because it enables them to provide learning material on demand.
- The Pragmatists: Many training teams can no longer keep up with requests for ad-hoc knowledge sharing or regional training. There’s no return on investment if L&D departments meet these increasingly specific demands on their own. Instead of creating courses themselves, they give SMEs access to easy-to-use tools. That way, SMEs create the training courses and directly share their expertise with others.
- The Budget-Cutters: In many industries, training departments are under budgetary strain. It’s very expensive for corporate instructional designers or third parties to create content. For L&D managers in search of cost-effective solutions, user-generated learning is an excellent option.
Experience shows that implementing user-generated learning is less of a “big bang” and more of an evolutionary process. Almost every company that has implemented user-generated learning started with a pilot or a small permanent initiative and then witnessed some positive early adoption and steady growth after the initial launch. For many companies, user-generated learning is part of a culture shift, which always takes time.
Not all employees will be willing to actively share their knowledge. There seems to be another 70-20-10 rule: Seventy percent of workers only want to consume content, but 20 percent are willing to participate if asked and only 10 percent thrive on proactively sharing their knowledge. As with the traditional 70-20-10 rule, these numbers merely indicate potential sizes of these groups. Still, it’s worth remembering this new rule when you’re considering implementing user-generated learning.
5 Strategies for Implementing User-Generated Learning
- The pull strategy: This one’s the easiest. SMEs take the initiative and request licenses for tools so they can create learning content and share their knowledge. The SMEs pull the process forward; all you have to do is fulfill their request.
- The DIY strategy: Employees request a certain program from the central L&D department. Instead of offering them a complete learning solution, you offer to enable them to do it themselves. The training organization provides employees with the tools, guidance and coaching they need to develop their own content.
- The ripple strategy: Some companies start by simply informing their employees of the option to share knowledge. Early adopters (the proactive 10-percent group) jump right in. The content they create starts a chain reaction, prompting others to share their knowledge. You can encourage this ripple effect through promotional materials such as webinars and blog posts. One American-based company with 45,000 employees in over 140 countries opted for this approach. They started with a six-month pilot to create an initial user base. During the first year after the pilot, they saw a 10-percent increase in users each month and 120-percent growth in the first full year.
- The management (push) strategy: The best way to speed things up is to include lower management. Bring them on board, or assign them a role in pushing forward user-generated learning initiatives.
- The project strategy: The L&D department identifies topics that need to be covered and invite SMEs (ideally from the 20-percent group) to supply learning content on these topics. After fulfilling the initial request, these users often stay active, continuing to create content and share their knowledge.
These strategies can be used separately or in combination. No two organizations are alike, so the key is to find the balance of strategies that fits best with your employees and your needs for user-generated content.
Implementation is key.
The trend toward user-generated learning is undeniable. Whether it’s driven by vision, pragmatism, changing business requirements or financial reasons, user-generated learning is all about sharing knowledge without the need for central supervision and guidance. When implemented correctly, it can be an extremely powerful extra asset to your company.