Posted by Barbara Opyt ● October 8, 2015

User-Generated Content: The Heart of Social Learning

User-Generated ContentThere are myriad ways that social media elements and tools can be incorporated into training initiatives, as we discussed in this article on social learning. Learning organizations are finding that social learning helps increase audience engagement, knowledge retention, and follow-up.

One of the more intriguing aspects of social learning is user-generated learning content. Through social feeds like the business-focused Yammer, collaborative wikis and microblogs, and learning management system features such as discussion forums, leading-edge organizations are beginning to embrace user-generated content within their social learning strategies.

However, there remains a general wariness in many organizations to the sharing of user-generated content in the enterprise. There are some very good reasons learning organizations should consider cultivating user-generated content, but the concept is not without its obstacles.

Here are five reasons why learning organizations are wise to cultivate user-generated content, five common obstacles and how to counter them, and five ways to encourage learners to interact with user-generated content.

5 Reasons to Embrace User-Generated Learning Content

1. Knowledge Retention

With Baby Boomers retiring and workforce turnover approaching all-time highs, capturing and storing worker knowledge is a high-value activity. By providing a place for this knowledge to be documented, subject-matter experts are empowered to share what they know.

2. Knowledge Penetration

Have you ever had the feeling your training program was falling on deaf ears? Getting your message to resonate—to have learners hear and internalize the message—may be affected by who they are hearing it from. A recent study found that people, Millennials especially, tend to trust and remember user-generated content more than traditional media.

3. Teach It to Know It

There's an old adage that says, “When one teaches, two learn.” By encouraging learners to contribute, they must think about what they know and organize their thoughts, thereby strengthening their own learning. By encouraging sharing of knowledge, employees develop accountability and responsibility for their own learning and development.

4. Build Trust, Loyalty, Engagement

Through sharing, people will get to know each other. This is the basis of trust building. The more you encourage users to contribute meaningful, helpful learning content, the more they will trust and want to engage.

5. Save Time and Money

By “crowdsourcing” learning content, your organization can develop and deliver bite-sized chunks of information efficiently, compared to the time and money spent creating traditional eLearning courses.

5 Challenges to Incorporating User-Generated Learning Content

1. Some Content May Be Inaccurate

How can you know an employee’s understanding of programs, processes, and best practices, before they take to posting content for colleagues to consume? This is a downside of user-generated learning content, to be sure, but look at it as a low-risk method of learning assessment. Quality issues can be addressed by content guidelines and community management practices. Find out what people know—and what knowledge gaps need to be dealt with—by the content they generate.

2. Some Content May Be Inappropriate

Organizations may fear social media as an outlet for the broadcast of inappropriate content, but the technology is not responsible for the behavior. Start by having content guidelines and community management practices for reporting and responding to content that does not belong on the channel. Monitoring the “chatter” is a smart way to gather intelligence. If there are complaints or issues posted, be sure to respond. Corporate responsiveness will ensure people feel heard.

3. It Might Be Difficult to Manage

Begin with strong content management practices for organizing content and assign a community manager to monitor and manage the site. As the volume of content grows, use methods for “crowdsourcing” additional content management by teaching contributors to tag their content.

4. Confidential Information Could Leak

Guidelines should include types of confidential information that should not be shared. These guidelines can build on policies that are already in place, and with a properly managed internal site you’ll at least be able to keep it in the family!

5. What If Nobody Contributes?

Well, they certainly won't if they don't have the opportunity. See below for ways to encourage content creation.

5 Ways to Encourage User-Generated Learning Content

1. Start Small

Be strategic about whom you involve at the outset of a user-generated content rollout. Begin wisely within a department or project team that has a high percentage of early adopters. Partner with and support early users through guidelines, examples, and suggested formats, such as lessons learned, story starters, and interview guides. Partner a reluctant SME with a willing scribe or budding videographer.

2. Establish Clear Goals and Guidelines

Let everyone know why the social tools are being implemented, how they will benefit from participating, be transparent about content guidelines, and create an effective storage/indexing/tagging system so volumes of information can be accessed effectively.

3. Ask Users What They Want to Know

Use onsite polls to solicit input. Add a forum about the forum (a meta-discussion) to field questions, comments, and concerns about the site. Gather statistics on site usage, which will reveal what topics learners are interested in, who they want to learn from, and how they want to learn.

4. Recognize Contributors

Use a mix of implicit incentives (social connections, status, badges, levels) and explicit incentives (contests, performance goals). Encourage upper management to engage in interesting ways—a few “likes" from the boss will let an employee know they are on the right track.

5. Encourage Visual Content

Images and video deliver high-impact learning, and anyone with a smartphone can create compelling visual media. Social media studies have consistently shown that user engagement rates are considerably higher when the work contains a visual element.

As the integration of social media becomes commonplace across learning & development organizations, so too will opportunities to incorporate user-generated content. As with any innovation, there will be some bumps along the road to implementation, but organizations that thoughtfully embrace user-generated content will have a tremendous advantage with regard to tribal knowledge capture, and will be at the forefront of the informal learning evolution.

Topics: Learning Trends, Learning Technologies