The move towards embracing social and informal frequently opens up the conversation to talking about user-generated and curated content (UGCC). This topic creates a lot of interest and excitement among many training professionals as it’s a great way to engage the business in learning. But I’m not sure we are seeing that much of it, which is a shame given it’s real potential to add valuable content to our overall portfolio.
In this post, I’m going to explore this topic in more detail in the hope that it’ll edge your plans further forward.
What is it?
Quite simply, it’s any content that an individual employee has supplied them self. It might have been created by them, i.e. prepared afresh, or curated by them, i.e. something they’ve found elsewhere and shared with others. In terms of required effort, there is more talk nowadays of curated content than created. Generally it’s quite simple in format – though not exclusively – and written in the voice of the practitioner with a pragmatic and practical focus. As a result, the best UGCC carries an authenticity that increases its value to the recipient.
What could it be?
Technology now enables anyone to easily create a variety of UGCC assets. In the past this would have been limited to a Word document or PowerPoint presentation (possibly converted into a PDF for ease of distribution), but now your average smartphone can enable the creation of short video or audio clips. From the simplest of selfie videos to a set of voiced-over slides or pictures, it’s possible to quickly create what we now term micro-learning. In terms of curation, it’s easy nowadays to share URLs, videos on YouTube, TED Talks and podcasts, along with all manner of reference materials, quite often with just the click of a button. Curated assets tend to be a mix of others’ user-generated resources and professionally written articles or learning materials.
Who should create it?
The source of the content is a very important factor. Typically, especially if you are just starting out with your UGCC strategy, your authors might be acknowledged subject matter experts from around the business. UGCC is also often sought after as a way to capture the knowledge accumulated by those about to leave the business, particularly in those organisations where there is large percentage of soon-to-be-retired colleagues. But ultimately, especially over time as employees become used to accessing this type of content, anyone might fancy the chance to share what they know. And, of course, trainers can create and curate too. Whereas in the past, we felt that we had to create a piece of more formal learning, thinking about what is fit for purpose should encourage us to think more simply at times.
How do you acquire it?
This is where things might start to get tricky, until such time as our learning systems evolve to support us here. The most simple of content formats are most probably already being shared via e-mail or posted to intranets or internal video-hosting sites. Without any supporting communications, these assets are most likely only benefiting those who need to know, or who stumble upon them. As we look to better facilitate and manage UGCC, we do need to look at smarter ways to administer the workflow that will make it easy for individuals to create, capture, upload, organise and share content. We also need to look at whether it’s content that we have commissioned, or whether it’s materials that are being freely volunteered up unsolicited, where we might not even know of its existence.
How do you process it?
In my conversations on this subject, it’s clear – and understandable – that L&D wants to play a key role in facilitating this approach to content development. So we need to find ways that we can be alerted to new content and support the process of organising and promoting it to the widest possible audience. If this content would fit well into an existing curriculum, then we need to manage its integration. If it might currently stand alone, then we need to consider how it’s positioned in our learning portfolio.
How do you distribute it?
Will all your UGCC sit within your learning management system? We might need to decide how and if it fits into the learning space, or whether this is content that would better reside elsewhere. One of the conundrums that has emerged is how we should actually treat UGCC. Does it need to be tagged and categorised as we do for formal learning and then organised neatly in the LMS, or should we be less concerned with applying such order to this type of content? If we start to receive significant volumes of UGCC, will we soon overload our processes if we try to treat it like other types of learning? Is there a balance to be achieved between recognising content that needs to be integrated versus that that can quite freely exist on its own?
What about the quality issue?
Some L&D professionals are concerned about the quality of the instructional design of user-generated content. If I’m being honest, it’s the lack of any rigid instructional design that is one of the attractions of UGCC. I have seen many examples of where user-generated content has resonated well with the audience because of its raw authenticity. But we can help learners to frame their content better by offering them templates, for example. Remember though, the more guidelines we place on them, the less likely many will decide to take part.
What about the accuracy of the content?
In my discussions with fellow L&D professionals, many have expressed concerns about how accurate user-generated content might be and the relevance of curated assets. There is a natural concern that inaccurate information will be shared and cause problems later, unless it’s identified and corrected. At the same time, there is a feeling that no-one is likely to deliberately set out to share incorrect content – many will refer any queries they have before submitting – and that only those content items in higher risks areas probably need to be overtly moderated. Many also believe that peer-review and comments will help to correct some content and that’s a learning experience in itself.
What skills do L&D need?
Many L&D professionals are already setting a good example by curating items to support the programmes they are offering. Curation is therefore a skill that needs to be developed, if only to understand how curated content can be a valuable and cost-effective component to any piece of learning. Working with subject matter experts is also a key skill to be acquired. In fact, improving one’s networking skills generally should allow L&D teams to recruit more content creators from the business. L&D designers also need to become good editors, taking UGCC and sensitively working with its contributors to increase its overall value to other learners.
How do you encourage UGCC?
To start with, you might just have to ask for it. This means locating subject matter experts in the business and cajoling them to provide content for you. You might also invite course participants to submit content as one of the learning steps in a blended learning programme. They could then peer-review each other’s contributions. As well as these more directive approaches, over time any social learning spaces should offer a place for UGCC. Gamification, e.g. creation and curation badges, has been suggested as a way to encourage, acknowledge and reward contributions from individual users, particularly in organisations where collaboration, sharing and innovation are key company behaviours.
How do you evaluate UGCC?
It’s not uncommon for L&D to question how they will evaluate content that originated from other sources other than their own. Some though have – quite pragmatically – taken the view that perhaps it doesn’t need to be evaluated, given its nature. Do you really want to attach an evaluation form to each piece of UGCC? That could be quite an administrative burden. But with the move to embedding social and informal learning into our approaches, many believe that peer ratings, “likes”, “thanks”, comments, recommendations and shares are the best form of evaluation. The most successful content rises to the top and contributors will develop their skills in this area, as they learn what works the best.