For the longest time, L&D has been the pillar of truth within an organisation (user-generated content was nowhere to be seen). The font of all knowledge. The bequeathers of wisdom and expertise. Sage and all-knowing, their one source of truth was all any business needed to deliver relevant, resonating training, right? Learners loved it (ok, that might not be entirely true), but they certainly weren’t as discerning as our learners are now.

Their attitudes and sentiments have changed – but how much have ours? Have our approaches to learning changed at all, or do we still see ourselves as the singular, sage harbourers of wisdom? Because if it’s the latter, we’re in a bit of a pickle.

Learners are consumers, really…

Now, I know I am always here drawing parallels between marketing and L&D, but I think the sooner learning professionals come to terms with the fact that their learners are indeed consumers at work, the easier life will be. How we got ourselves to a place where we felt things had to be different at work compared to everyday lives, I do not know. But what I do know is the appetite for the two to now have parity is present.

Learners are tired. Tired of the same learning. Tired of the same, dull experiences. Outside of work, they’re being scintillated; their attention spans captured, their hearts and minds encapsulated by brands like Apple, Google and Innocent Smoothies (or is that just me? Their newsletter truly is a thing of beauty). They’re engaged with brands, they’re connected, compelled to act (read: buy) and motivated to move.

Whilst pretty much all of us don’t have the megabucks budgets of those brands, the notion of creating more consumer-grade experiences at work, to motivate and move employees is one to be held and considered.

So, what’s L&D got to do with it?

So, let’s look at your learning landscape and training programmes to see how they’re connecting and compelling learners to act:

  • A Learning Management System which has a poor UI and UX, only tracks completions and serves a core purpose of satisfying only the admins’ needs = compliance.
  • Reams of elearning content, covering compliance, soft skills, leadership and management training and more. This content repository is the ballast of your LMS; for better or worse this is what’s keeping it afloat.
  • Maybe some face-to-face training thrown in for good measure.

Now, the nature of this content is entirely moot for the purposes of this discussion. Maybe it’s the most engaging, show-stopping elearning in the world. Maybe that’s working well at getting their attention. But, it’s still created by your department. Your learners’ one source of truth. The single route from which to acquire information.

Authenticity has never been more important

And that’s a problem, surely? Think of it this way, if you were looking to book a holiday, you’d scour the web, curate and consume some webpages, videos, go on TripAdvisor, look at photos and more to help you better understand whether you want to part ways with your savings.

The content you’d consume would come from a variety of sources (both trusted and unknown) from across the Internet of Things. There’s just no way you’d use one source, and chances are your sources would be a mix of real people (reviews, blog posts, Instagram imagery) combined with fonts of knowledge (travel providers, hotel website etc).

Apply this same premise to acquiring a new skill outside of work (learning an instrument, for example). Even if you used a single source like YouTube, the likelihood of you exclusively visiting the same channel or user to learn this new skill still is extremely slim.

Consumers like a mix of information, and the reality is, no brand, business or L&D department can fake the authenticity of those ‘real people’ we all use to help inform our decisions these days. In fact, although 92% of marketers believe most or all of the content they create resonates as authentic with consumers, 51% of consumers say less than half of brands create content that resonates as authentic.

So your learning content, even if you think it feels authentic and real, runs the real risk of failing because it comes from the only source of knowledge within the business: L&D. And people, your learners, just don’t find that authentic.

But what’s the solution?

User-generated content impacts decisions

This isn’t just me giving you an articulate spiel about how cultivating an environment where user-generated content can be a reality for your business will solve all your problems. But, according to the data, it will certainly be more effective at building trust with your learners and driving more authentic, emotive responses with them. And emotion helps people remember stuff, which is great for knowledge retention #science.

So let’s look at the data. According to a recent report by Stackla:

79% of people say UGC highly impacts their purchasing decisions, yet only 13% said content from a brand is impactful.

Content from the ‘fonts of knowledge’ we mentioned above had much less influence and impact on consumers. Do you think your learners may feel the same about the content you produce?

Influential and highly valuable, but not for you?

Beyond being seen as the most authentic, UGC is also the most influential content people reference when making purchasing decisions. Most consumers say that they’ve made decisions based solely on user-generated content. In fact, after consuming ONLY UGC:

  • 57% have made plans to dine at a particular restaurant
  • 54% have purchased a consumer packaged good
  • 52% have made plans to travel to a specific destination based on a consumer-created image or video

Ugh. Not very promising for the single source of truth, fonts of knowledge L&D departments.

I know, I know. I can already sense the niggling sentiment some of you won’t be able to shake about UGC. And that’s the fact that yes, your learners have different expectations. Yes, their experiences are not aligned at work to that of the outside world. But the fact of the matter is this: there are some things employees HAVE to do. The C word.

Compliance. There. I said it.

Compliance training is seen by many as the antithesis of user-generated content:

“How can we have a UCG-centric culture when we still need to deliver compliance training?”

I personally think we’re looking at this concept in absolutes, which is wrong. Either we have to have all user-generated content, which scuppers our ability to be legally compliant on a range of business-related matters. Or we give the learners what they want, what we know they will connect with, but at the risk of the business. This is not a black and white matter and we have to embrace the grey a little bit more.

Time to let go of the reins (at least a little)

For me, cultivating a culture of user-generated content, within an ecosystem of learning at work, is not one which puts the business at risk. The reality is, we must create an environment which meets the needs of both business and learner in the most holistic way possible.

That means removing barriers for creation for learners, but also means creating real opportunities for people to learn from people at work. Much like our holiday shopper above would use a range of sources to inform, so must L&D provide a platform or environment where learners can do the same.

That means a mix of content from both ‘real people’ and ‘fonts of knowledge’. What might that actually look like? In next-generation learning ecosystems like our Learning Experience Platform, it could look something like this:

Real people

Videos, questions, screencasts, web links and more, all combined and shared by employees, for consumption by their peers. Maybe some of this content is a bit rough around the edges, maybe it’s not always pristine. But it’s real, and it reflects what your learners expect outside of work. And most importantly – they trust it.

Fonts of knowledge

Elearning, excerpts from books, web links from trusted websites, webinars, events and more. All shared and curated for relevant audiences, intermingled with the user-generated content to create a visceral mix of knowledge for employees to consume.

That’s it for me. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. In fact, mixing the two provides, in my opinion, a well-rounded, work-based learning environment which is much more applicable and relevant to the employee.

It’s as easy as LXP

In order to bridge these gaps in perception between L&D and learner, learning professionals need to move away from the expensive and time-consuming professional content they currently prioritise and listen to what global consumers have repeatedly declared – the authenticity and influence of user-generated content are what people seek, trust and act on most.

By strategically tapping into the content consumers freely crave and create, you can simultaneously solve your content production and authenticity challenges, while also reducing costs and delivering more relevant, engaging and influential content experiences for your audiences.

This absolutely can be a reality for your business – but you just need a system which enables you to do this seamlessly and easily. We believe that system is our LXP, but we’ll let you decide.

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