The term user-generated content refers to media content available on Internet portals and social applications that has been contributed by and for a specific community. Within the training industry, it pertains to searchable online learning content generated informally by colleagues for use by specific stakeholders of an organization.
User-generated content is the most time-honored method of training – informally spreading one’s personal knowledge of a subject to peers. In workplace settings, such “user-generated learning content” has traditionally been delivered in relaxed settings like the lunch room to supplement formal curricula. But, the proliferation of communications technologies has radically transformed both the delivery of user-generated content and the relative importance of such material to organizations.
Internet-based technologies, along with ubiquitous smart phones and tablets, are at the forefront of today’s digital revolution. Blogs, wikis, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, webinars, Skype, podcasts and other tools are all being employed for informal and social learning purposes by enterprising organizations.
Doing so enables companies to harness the knowledge, experience and ideas of employees and customers alike. Training departments are encouraging the development of learning content by users and are delivering it via intranets and other dedicated personal learning sites. They are also cataloguing content and making it searchable with data mining technologies.
Advocates contend that easily accessed user-generated content speeds time to performance, reinforces the “pull” of internet-based learning, and engages the learning community including multiple generations in the workforce.
(Equally robust is the proliferation of user-generated content gathered by the same technologies for non-training purposes. For example, the term “conversational media” is often applied to contexts pertaining to informal content for discussion forums, news gathering, problem processing and gossip purposes. The ultimate expression of user-generated content is “crowd sourcing,” the gathering of collective knowledge from large online communities for a variety of uses.)
VALUABLE TRAINING TOOL
The growth of user-generated content for training purposes is being propelled by a variety of factors. Among them:
- Economics. Cost-conscious organizations are reducing their reliance on formal instructor-led training with less expensive virtual classrooms and other internet-based training. They are instead increasing their reliance on content from subject matter experts (SMEs), both formally and informally.
- Demand. Computer-savvy employees, especially those from the millennial generation, are strong advocates of mobile and social learning technologies. Training and other departments are aggressively adjusting to the learning preferences of these motivated workers.
- Practicality. Organizations are seeking to capture the institutional knowledge of senior employees before they retire. They are also promoting the growth of mentoring and coaching as substitutes for classroom-based training.
For training departments, the proliferation of user-generated content offers a variety of benefits. Most important is its minimal acquisition costs and its on-demand availability virtually anywhere. In addition, contributions can be captured, stored, catalogued, edited, improved, and even rated by the user community for increased value and effectiveness.
How user-generated content is employed by training departments
A growing trend within the training field involves leveraging the ability to capture the knowledge, expertise and ideas of valued employees to benefit an entire organization. Such “user-generated content” is often solicited by training organizations and made available when needed thanks to the proliferation of mobile communications and web-based technologies.
Some training organizations are seeking to incorporate user-generated content in ways that will add value to their formal learning curricula and improve job-related performance. To do so most effectively, they must capture the relevant content and store it in an online database where it can be accessed on demand.
Research indicates that many learning professionals are leveraging such content, or are planning to do so. Training professionals who participated in the research suggested several best practices for organizations seeking to initiate user-generated content programs. Among them:
- Follow a phased-in approach. Training departments should start small and allow time for buy-in to the process of creating user content.
- Partner with and support users. Departments should help users identify important information for sharing, and provide participants with guidelines and tools. They should ensure that content is easily accessible for all.
- Ensure accuracy of content. User-generated content should be reviewed by experts, including a single content “owner” so that users can rely on it.
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