User Generated Content

16th Sept 2015

Not so long ago, everyone wanted to talk about user generated content (or UGC) and yet today it’s a term you hardly ever hear (at least not in L&D circles). Does that mean it’s something that people are no longer interested in? Before we answer that, here’s a little history. 

There were two previous waves of interest in UGC. 

The first was the rise of rapid authoring tools and with them the idea that they should be given to subject matter experts, who would then produce elearning content themselves. The promised revolution never materialised - and with good reason. Some of the tools are very good, but they need technical and design skills to get the best out of them. They have a learning curve that puts them out of the reach of most users. 

The second was the rise of social media and with it the idea that everyone was (and wanted to be) a publisher. This has delivered on its promise to a much greater degree, and in a way that is much more interesting to those of us that work in L&D. In my previous posts here about the use of video, I mentioned the volume of content shared on YouTube and other services each day. 

These days UGC appears in everything from marketing materials to news reports. So to answer the question - I don’t think there’s any less interest in UGC, but it is something that is so pervasive that it has become normal and no longer merits being identified as anything other than content. 

UGC and learning 

There are many things produced by non L&D people from which we can learn and which can support performance. Many of these will be simple guides, references and ‘how tos’ - things that show the user how to perform a specific activity. In essence these are user generated performance support materials and they are part of the 70% in the 70:20:10 model

These are incredibly important, but rarely need the assistance of L&D to get in front of the people that need them. People produce them and find them because they have a problem to solve and probably never even think of them as learning materials. There are other examples of UGC which are more recognisable as learning materials. They are intended to give someone a skill or knowledge. User produced materials of this kind can be extremely valuable and L&D may have a role to play in supporting their development. 

Websites like Udemy, Skillshare and Learnable allow subject matter experts and other non-L&D people to distribute (and sell) their own learning content. If we consider the formal materials distributed through these sites, and the less formal content available through sites like YouTube and Vimeo, this tells us that there is definitely a place for SME (user) generated content. 

UGC inside organisations

There is a good argument for using the LMS to deliver UGC - certainly of the type that is recognisable as learning material. Services like Udemy catalogue content, manage enrolments and keep learning records. They are learning management systems, albeit without much of the complexity that you find in most corporate systems. 

Although many organisations are happy to use content produced by customers, UGC rarely plays an overt part inside organisations. 

L&D may have a resistance to UGC because they perceive it to be lower quality and not 'learning' content. Their concerns may not be entirely unjustified. Not everyone has the natural ability to create the kind of content that people want. 

Unlike YouTube, services such as Udemy provide their content producers with guidance and support and act as gatekeepers for the quality of the content. After all they are a commercial service and they have a vested interest in ensuring that the content on their site is fit for purpose and appeals to their customers. There is clearly a role here for L&D - as long as it is managed with a light touch. 

 Would you use user generated content in your organisation and how much support are you willing to offer your content producers?