Fast moving business goals necessitate the workforce to be upskilled or reskilled at the same pace. Learning and knowledge distribution is no longer learning and development’s (L&D’s) sole responsibility and, whether you accept it or not, your employees are finding solutions elsewhere. They are creating knowledge nuggets in a myriad of ways and curating their own learning resources. L&D should partner with employees to share their internal professional expertise, the type of expertise gained only through experience – not Google. Let’s discuss a collaborative model to untap the tacit knowledge of subject matter experts (SMEs) and share it with their teams. This creates a body of knowledge to facilitate a bottom-up learning approach.  


Here’s a reality check: Your SMEs invariably rely on their personal learning networks and resources to get things moving. Apart from learning something entirely newthey do not wait for training workshops and learning courses to happen. They need instant information to add to their knowledge, apply in the workflow and solve the problem at hand. 

Today, employees are finding their own partial solutions across the internet and curating their own journeys at work. This method works most of the time, except for when the knowledge they are seeking lies in experience. A related distinction is that information available on the web is generic and may not be tailored to company specifics. Sometimes, it needs to be untapped from another individual who has cracked that code, solved that customer case, won that deal or built that product from scratch. 

According to well-known learning leader and author, JD Dillon, approximately 2.5 hours per day are wasted looking for information. You can imagine the loss when you scale it up at an organizational level. Let’s add another tangent to this discussion, where employees leave organizations and take their unique knowledge with them. This costs organizations a large amount of time and money in order to replace lost knowledge. 

In a nutshell, organizations must try to preserve this unique information, so that it is accessible to other employees seeking similar solutions. Thus, eliminating the risk of wasting employees’ time and effort because they cannot access the unique, meaningful knowledge available to them. 

New Role of L&D in Employee-generated Learning Model 

So, how can L&D enable knowledge sharing? It is L&D’s responsibility to gear up for the future as a curator, facilitator, community manager, and marketing and communication expert alike. Let’s combine the best traits of all these roles and refer to them as an enterprise knowledge catalyst, someone who oversees business, employees and knowledge with the following core jobs: 

  • Consulting the business in identifying performance gaps. 
  • Collaborating with employees to drive content creation; they inspire, guide and empower them to share their expertise. 
  • Maintaining and monitoring the knowledge basethey facilitate the source and structure for preserving the knowledge. 

This process is facilitated by L&D and driven by the employees who create and share knowledge. We termed this democratic and collaborative approach employee-generated learning (EGL), and here are the cornerstones of the approach: 

  • Strategy: Move from top-down to bottomup. 
  • Design and DeliveryMove from courses to resources.  
  • ImpactMove from metrics to data. 

EGL is a method to capture tacit knowledge and use this information to support the performance of employees in the workflow. Primarily because employees don’t need to step away to fill knowledge gaps through training classes, they can solve problems without disrupting workflow. Secondly, they don’t need to wade through hoards of courses. They instantly refer to the tested and tried knowledge and apply it straight away. L&D can partner with employees to create a pool of collective wisdom that serves the rest of the organization and helps maintain an up-to-date knowledge base – an internal Google!  

Case Study 

In today’s fast-paced, competitive telecom industry with ever-growing learning requests, T-Mobile’s L&D department faced a significant reduction in resources. How could T-Mobile fulfil increasing numbers of training requests with fewer L&D staff? 

Challenge: Fulfilling More Training Requests with Only 25% of the Previous Staff 

T-Mobile’s situation is very common in the L&D field; budget cuts reduced the L&D team from 14 trainers to four while the demand for training kept increasing. 

Training requests were accelerating because new products were launching rapidly, the amount of regulation was increasing and consumers expected better customer service. Staff cuts forced the L&D team to reject training requests. The L&D team knew they needed to find a way to scale training output while using only 25% of the previous resources.  

Solution: Scaling Output by Enabling Business Units to Create Training Under the Guidance of L&D 

They knew that the L&D department alone would never be able to meet the high demand for training resources. Training requests would remain unfulfilled and time to market for training resources would be too time consuming. For example, Apple announces its new products very shortly before they launch. Their resources need to be tailored to T-Mobile’s needs quickly to ensure sales and marketing staff are properly trained. The L&D team knew they needed significantly more people to create content than a centralized L&D department could ever facilitate. 

Employee-generated Learning 

After identifying user-generated content as the most suitable solution, the L&D team started a trial of EGL and chose support tools that had a low learning curve to suit people who do not have an e-learning or didactical background. 

Instead of creating training, the L&D department’s main responsibility became enabling employees to create their own training. They offered guidance on questions such as: 

  • Is there a large enough audience to create a training resource? 
  • Does the training resource address a learning goal? 
  • Is the training output didactically sound? For instance, is it visually appealing, did the creator use the minimum amount of text needed and does it include interactive elements? 

The responsibility for fulfilling training requests shifted from the L&D department to the business units. L&D became responsible for quality assurance and guidance, shifting away from content creation. This transition to EGL resulted in five times more training, increased delivery of training resources and eliminated unfulfilled training requests. 

EmployeesSMEs and Knowledge Sharing Tools 

This said, if you are taking the route of EGL, then our industry must envision an SME-friendly tool that captures the knowledge in the working moment so that it is available to other colleagues. 

To this end, we conducted a study in 2018 to understand the behavior and content types created by SMEs as part of the knowledge-sharing act. Our top findings indicated that employees create different types of content to match the point of need. Our results tied in with the content types illustrated in the Performance Support Pyramid of five moments of learning needs. This implies that SMEs may not adhere to the standards of curriculum or courses and can be improvised to a great extent.

As Elliot Masie, educational technology expert, puts it, think of a tool that supports “lego-styled content creation,” where pieces can be arranged in any way to arrive at a structure. In other words, the learning tools must allow SMEs to share knowledge as they experience it in their work. They should enable authors to create discrete chunks of information in multiple forms and an on-demand format (i.e., checklists, articles, tutorials, videos, FAQs, etc.).

In this context, there is a gap in the market for social learning and knowledge sharing tools. This was evident in Easygenerator’s research among subject matter experts (SMEs) who helped distinguish two main types of content tools: rich, complex authoring tools and wiki-style document and information systems. These authoring tools are made for instructional designers who are highly skilled at creating high-quality training content and do not suit the needs of SMEs who lack a didactic background. Vast, wiki-style document and information systems are designed for employees to collaborate and exchange information. These frustrate SMEs because of their lack of structure.

In our experience working with clients like T-Mobile, Nielsen and Electrolux, there are a few criteria that helped L&D decide on the right tools for implementing EGL: 

  • Zero-learning curve
  • Collaborative content creation
  • Support the creation of multiple content types
  • Easy set-up and maintenance
  • Flexible publishing and sharing options
  • Peer review workflow

Guidelines to Ensure Quality Information

Moving on to the final piece of this EGL equation, how can L&D ensure quality of information shared by SMEs and inspire them to continue sharing knowledge? Here are a few guidelines drawn from our experience:

Inspire: SMEs often assume that creating e-learning content is too difficult because it involves developing complicated, comprehensive courses. L&D should make clear that learning content does not have to be a full course but can be a simple how-to. Help them identify best practices for the training resources.

Guide: Provide enough guidance on what constitutes meaningful learning content. Webinars, resources and in-person sessions on best practices will significantly improve the quality of content.

Monitor: You only guide once and then start monitoring authors and content to evaluate consumption. Use the data/metrics to figure out what’s working and what’s not, and guide your authors accordingly.

To sum it up, L&D professionals have always strived to produce the best learning experience possible. But does a perfectionist approach result in the best return on investment (ROI)? Instead of striving to achieve the perfect training course, L&D teams should give SMEs everything they need to spring into action and do it themselves. The true power lies in partnering with employees and enabling them to share knowledge as they experience it.