Guide to User Generated Content (UGC) in learning

by | Resources

While user-generated content (UGC) in learning and development is not a new concept, it is only now that L&D professionals are seriously diving into its application. It’s not surprising. Faced with an overwhelming workload and content that needs to respond to ever-evolving skills requirements, the bottom line for learning and development teams is: something has to change.

In this guide to User-Generated Content (UGC) in learning, we look at the challenges it poses and share some of the best practices we see work well.


Why UGC and why now?

Working in learning and development these days is tough. While L&D budgets were expected to rise by as much as 48% in 2022, the need for effective, quality learning far surpasses the ability of teams to manage the workload. They are being asked to produce more and more learning and at the same time, they are being invited to contribute on a strategic level. L&D departments are finally considered business critical but the danger is ‘burnout’. Our friends at Elucidat and RedThread call this the Learning Content Dilemma in which:

    • Employees are drowning in (irrelevant) content and yet struggling to find what they need
    • There is an increasing demand on L&D to deliver more than ever before
    • There is a strong push for specific skills which requires input from SME’s within the organisation

Necessity is a mother of invention, so unsurprisingly many learning professionals are turning to new approaches to deal with this new reality of, let’s face it, just too much to do and not enough people to do it!

One of these “new” approaches is the use of user-generated content in learning. UGC in elearning is not only often cheaper than traditional learning content production, but it can also be more effective.

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According to Institute for Corporate Productivity 2020 research, most organisations using the approach agreed that UGC is an effective method of training.

Audiences also demand user-generated content, particularly video. It all comes down to consumer media influence and a learner base of both digital natives and digital immigrants who use UGC as a format they trust.


Where can UGC make an impact when it comes to elearning?

There’s no doubt that UGC in learning has the power to not only cut costs but bring about effective behavioural change or develop skills, which is the goal of any learning programme. Here are just a few examples where user-generated learning videos have the power to transform the way knowledge and experiences are captured, shared and learned in the workplace. The actual list is endless!


Impact 1: UGC engages learners and makes dry content come to life

Employees are drowning in content but how much of it is really relevant and geared towards achieving specific business and learning objectives? We would argue not much.

At the start of COVID everyone rushed to elearning (because there was no choice) as an immediate fix rather than an aligned and intentional strategy. Much of the content put online was done so in a mad dash to get something out there. Understandably so, in those initial days future proofing was on no one’s mind. The name of the game was “get it online”. Now the dust has truly settled, many L&D teams are faced with a legacy of generic content that continues to miss the mark.

The power of UGC lies in its ability to amplify the employee voice, add context and build trust. And, these days when leaders are experiencing a lack of trust, trusting coworkers is at an all-time high.

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Those learning programmes that can harvest trust in an effective way with user-generated content are setting up their training programmes for success.

Capturing the passion of your own experts through UGC also makes learning experiences organisation-specific. It brings dry content to life and shares the real experiences of ‘what works here’ increasing the desired impact on the behaviours your L&D departments are looking for.


Impact 2: UGC frees up the L&D department to be agile to business needs

Another impact of UGC in learning is that it enables L&D teams to be responsive with programme-ready content.

UGC, if managed properly, can completely change the dynamic learning teams have with their subject matter experts (SMEs) – their creators.

“For a long period of time, L&D has been the owners, custodians and creators… But, what we’ve done at Aviva, is a clear recognition that the experts are in the business… [And] my job is understanding the learning technology that can be used to transfer that knowledge.”

David Hepworth, Learning Technology & Design Lead at Aviva

By bringing UGC into the fold, learning and development teams sign up for a change in mindset, the shift from doer to enabler. This is very much needed in the L&D industry but it’s not something that can simply work out of the box. We talk about the challenges below and how to overcome them. The rewards are undeniable.

L&D departments that do it right can build a creator economy that allows them to be more agile to business needs. The time this saves from producing content can be used to focus on needs, strategy and influence far beyond the confines of your department, bringing change on an organisational level.


Challenges with UGC for learning and how L&D can overcome them

Considering the impact that UGC can have in learning, it’s little wonder Fosway Group reported over 30% of organisations mean to step up their game when it comes to UGC in learning. Additionally, 71% of respondents see UGC as a content growth area, making it only second to video.

The use of UGC in learning is not really new, it has just been accelerated by COVID and the uncertain economic environment we find ourselves in. Organisations like Google have long moved their training approaches to peer-to-peer learning. As far back as 2017, they moved as much as 80% of all their training to a community model called “G2G” — Googler-to-Googler.

What is new is the headway that has been achieved in figuring out what this means in practice for learning teams and the maturity of solutions for supporting success. What are the challenges companies such as Google faced and how they overcame them? How do they manage user-generated content in learning without it turning into the wild west we see so often when it comes to its use in areas such as social media?

While there are several things learning teams need to consider when it comes to the implementation of UGC, in our experience there are a number of broad challenges to overcome.

Specifically, the 3 main challenges of user-generated content in learning and corporate training are:

    • Poor quality of UGC training
    • Engaging SME’s to become content creators
    • Creating UGC training at scale and the cost

Let’s dive deeper into each of these potential UGC drawbacks


Challenge 1 – Quality

Many organisations are still struggling with quality when it comes to UGC, particularly video. Just asking your creators (your subject matter experts) to send a video they filmed themselves can lead to L&D departments struggling to use the content. There are a few reasons why this happens, some of which are connected to expectations vs. reality when it comes to user-generated content in learning.

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We talk a bit more about scalability below but when it comes to quality the bottom line is: L&D departments can’t approach training UGC the same way someone in marketing might approach UGC.

Training often requires complexity far beyond your average Instagram or TikTok reel. It also has a far more complex call to action than marketing-related CTAs like “Find Out More”.

Also, let’s face it, not many of us are naturally great at ‘public’ speaking and when you couple this with the wide range of video quality you will encounter, the results can often be underwhelming. This leaves L&D teams to try and figure out what, if anything, they can do with the content that’s been submitted.

The answer to this challenge is technology and best practice sharing. Again, this comes back to the idea that L&D professionals should be curators and enablers, not controllers and order-takers.

By technology, we don’t mean buying everyone in the company the latest iPhone or setting them up with a video room. Or, spending hours scripting what your subject matter experts should say.

There are tools out there that can help you. But be careful, we know many fail the quality meter. You can ask people to film using the record button in tools such as Zoom or Teams which might already be part of your tech stack. But, if your goal is to create something relevant, concise and high-value, it’s better to use a tool like Storytagger, which has been designed to overcome the specific challenges related to user-generated video in learning. As well as smart-recording technology, it uses reflection and storytelling techniques to help anyone share on-point tacit knowledge and experiences.

Ideally, you also don’t want to spend hours writing scripts for your UGC. If you do, it won’t just be your time that suffers. The resulting content will be stilted, inauthentic and you’ll miss out on the rich, diverse seam of expertise in your business. This again is where a tool like StoryTagger can help – by guiding your people to self-film incredible content to a brief and interview framework you set. Even if your team has no experience in recording or writing interview questions you’ll be up and running in no time with the platform’s extensive template library. Template topics include sharing career stories, real-world tips, developing empathy skills and a whole lot more.


Challenge 2 – Engagement

The challenge of engaging your subject matter experts and helping them become confident in a content creation role is all too real. People often remark how projects have previously fallen flat because they’ve struggled to get subject matter experts to engage with the L&D department.

This is where the model of co-creation and the creator economy comes into play. The co-creation model is the perfect fit for L&D. It reframes the question of engagement and provides the scaffolding needed to build a decentralised content creation model. It’s a framework for both design and engagement that has the power to battle some of your SME’s most common objections when it comes to providing valuable content.

We cover this topic in depth in our free guide on How to Transform experts into inspiring content creators, so be sure to check it out. For the purposes of this guide, there are three main questions you need to answer in order to build your decentralised content creation model. To engage your creators your programmes need to be able to respond to them.

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    • Do I have what it takes? – Everyone suffers from imposter syndrome at times, and your creators will do too. You need to be ready to nurture their confidence and domain expertise. Use technology to help people overcome this, coaching them to recognise their own value in what they have to share.
    • Why should I create? – Be very clear on the purpose and what’s in it for them. Money is a big motivator for creators in the consumer space. Use effective communication to make it clear ‘why’ people should create user-generated content at work.
    • How do I do this? – Make it easy for people to create relevant content with technology that gives direction and removes barriers to success.

If you’ve failed to engage people to create something of value, which of these three questions didn’t you answer? StoryTagger helps you respond positively to all of these questions.


Challenge 3: Scale and cost associated with it

We’re very well-versed in this one! Part of the StoryTagger origin story is the pursuit of democratisation, scale and lower costs. Our journey started with the labour-intensive process of interviewing subject matter experts on location to capture video training content with a professional filming crew. The stories really hit the mark in terms of capturing the videos organisations needed but it was expensive and impossible to scale. So, we automated the interview process and rethought video quality in terms of recording employees.

Despite the inherent value, there just isn’t the budget or lead time available to get all your SMEs interviewed by video crews. But scale and lower costs are achievable whilst still capturing valuable content. UGC allows you to avoid the heavy costs of a filming crew and there are platforms available with the built-in workflows needed for scale. All you need is the right tool.

With Storytagger you can easily build workflows that keep your subject matter experts or your creators on track. Plus, from the get-go, it’s easy to automate the enrollment of your creators and schedule nudges and reminders based on their activity. Everything you need to manage your creator community and empower them to create quality user-generated video content at scale is already there.

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What type of learning programmes work for UGC?

Recently, Elucidat and RedThread published a new relevant, strategic model for learning content, based on four different types of content:

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This kind of content bucketing is very useful when thinking about your user-generated content in learning strategy. It provides L&D departments with a clear lens from which to see the types of learning programmes that can benefit from UGC. We believe if done right, user-generated content can benefit most programmes, but it’s important to play to its strengths and be clear on why you’re taking this approach. The top two quadrants are where UGC can truly excel as you’re able to directly support your organisation’s specific requirements with contextual, real experiences and examples. Here are just a few ideas to get you thinking about its application in your work.


Specific & durable

This type of content is specific to the organisation but has a long shelf life.

Let’s look at onboarding programmes. Research shows 88% of organisations don’t have a good onboarding programme and 58% deliver an underwhelming experience by focusing on processes and paperwork. At the same time, a strong onboarding process improves new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%.

With hybrid working being the norm in many organisations, the problem is even more exacerbated. This is where UGC content truly makes an impact. The new creator economy can help L&D teams provide an outstanding onboarding experience both in the office and remotely while saving time and costs for organisations.

Time-to-competence, retention and high engagement are all onboarding goals you need to ace. How are you giving new starters a sense of purpose and access to key people from Day 1? The best way to achieve these goals is to bring in the voices of people your starters trust: their coworkers.

Our top 5 employee onboarding video examples offer some inspiration for how to use UGC videos in your onboarding programmes.


Specific & Perishable

Unlike specific and durable, as the title suggests, specific & perishable content has a shorter shelf life. It’s specific to any individual organisation but becomes out of date quickly.

UGC comes in as an obvious choice for specific & perishable learning for training employees, particularly in using in-house tools or corporate learning programmes designed to understand organisational processes. These tend to change very fast and many organisations struggle to keep up with the changes in an engaging and effective way.

What happens when an employee can’t find an answer to a problem? They turn to Google. This of course puts your internal processes at risk as the advice they get might not be completely accurate or inline with how your organisation runs things.

Upskilling people on the benefits and sales points for new products and services is another typical example of specific & perishable. This has to have expert input so why not enable your SMEs to deliver this content directly where and when people need it.

This is why these programmes should incorporate content that allows employees to learn in the flow of work. And the most effective way to do this is by using the expertise you already have in the organisation. Empowering your creators (your subject matter experts) to share content that can be used by employees when they need it the most.


Generic & Perishable

Generic & perishable is learning content that applies to many organisations and changes often. These areas such as compliance and fast-changing tech skills are likely to be well-serviced by content libraries or specialist training providers who are constantly updating their programmes with a one-to-many approach.

UGC can make a sizable impact by providing organisational context to address specific challenges relating to the ‘generic’ issue. For example, let’s take health and safety training. If an organisation has a particular problem with injuries caused by manual handling, despite people taking regular manual handling e-learning courses, adding some UGC content can make a difference. After all, you’re looking to change behaviour.

In this situation, hearing why correct manual handling is important and the impact of not doing it properly from coworkers who have real work experience to share is powerful. Adding the ‘how we do things here’ component helps people see the connection to their role and aligns with the culture your organisation is building.


Generic & Durable

Generic & durable is learning content that applies to many organisations and has a long shelf life.

Leadership programmes are a great example of how UGC can support your learning goals. Currently, many L&D teams are faced with a few challenges when it comes to people management and leadership training. L&D professionals we speak to regularly report that people don’t prioritise their own development so knowledge transfer from management programmes and some leadership training is low. First-line managers can struggle to see the value in leadership training when much of their learning time is dedicated to mandated training.

Some organisations are doing well here. They capture leader voices to share tips and advocacy messages for how they apply what they’ve learned and the difference training has made to how they do their jobs. This in turn positively impacts engagement, but video production is too expensive to scale. UGC at its core is scalable and cost-effective and can be a great way to deliver better ROI for your leadership programmes.

“StoryTagger is helping our leaders amplify innovation, experiences and learning in an agile and human way.”
Carol-ann Gibson, EU Operations Program Manager, Amazon


Examples of user-generated content for elearning

Using UGC for online learning can be very effective and our customers are already doing an amazing job of integrating user-generated learning into their L&D programmes. Here’s a selection of three inspiring examples we’ve seen so far.


1. Onboarding volunteers at pace with Together Co

One of our favourite stories of using UGC in onboarding is Together Co, a leading loneliness charity. When facing a huge surge in demand brought on by the pandemic, they used Storytagger to quickly and effectively onboard a large number of new volunteers with user-generated video content created by the team.

The volunteers were able to virtually meet their colleagues, feel connected and complete the online training at their convenience. This type of onboarding not only engaged a large cohort to be support-ready from the start, but it was also a big time saver for the Together Co team. The end results? They halved training time and tripled the number of additional volunteers to provide an extra 1000 hours of support to vulnerable people.


2. Emerging Stronger

Emerging Stronger are on a mission to empower L&D to take the bold action needed to positively impact business. So it’s no surprise they made the list of great examples of UGC. Using the collective wisdom of three experienced L&D individuals they’re set to transform the learning landscape. To showcase the movement, they’ve created a collection of user-generated advocacy videos which highlight how learning professionals participating in their programmes are growing their practice as a result.

Their use of UGC is very inspiring on many levels. Not least because they share a wealth of useful information for any L&D practitioner looking to curate learning content. Through these stories, Emerging Stronger built awareness of the programme, demonstrated an understanding of the challenges faced and presented innovative ways forward. All while building trust – L&D professional to L&D professional.

Take a look at the Emerging Stronger video collection.

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3. British Library

One of the British Library’s main objectives for their talent strategy is to attract and retain the very best apprentices. And, UGC is a great way to do this. They tapped into their existing creator pool – current and past apprentices, managers and even the early careers team themselves. As a result, they created a series of authentic, insights-rich and concise user-generated videos that helped make both the resources and application process more inclusive.

By including user-generated content in their early careers programmes, they levelled the playing field for all candidates. Each of them had access to information in more relatable, impactful ways so that all the candidates went on to perform well in the later stages of their application. With candidates even better prepared, interview quality and engagement were higher leading to the recruitment of an excellent new cohort of apprentices.

See how user-generated content helped the British Library make the apprenticeship candidate journey more inclusive and how you can support your early careers programmes with UGC.

Final thoughts

Something has to change. It’s no longer sustainable for L&D departments to simply continue with business as usual. Costs and demands are rising, and valuable learning professionals can’t afford to just spend time ‘doing’ – whether it’s simple design, editing or admin work. They are battling an unprecedented call for training and increasing levels of input into other strategic, business-critical areas such as diversity, equity and inclusion, and talent. There simply isn’t enough time to do it all and the backlog is getting bigger by the minute.

To add to this, trends in trust show how coworkers are the second most trusted source of information after scientists (Edelman 2022), organisational culture has never been more important and users are demanding engaging content.

User-generated content is an obvious strategy to respond to the current challenges, trends and demand. It’s not a panacea but applied well, UGC supports the transformation of L&D with the power to drive learning, performance and change.

It’s not an easy road but big shifts seldom are. Hopefully, this guide gets you started on the journey of transforming your L&D department so you can achieve more and better, with less.

To find out how StoryTagger can support user-generated content for learning for your organisation, speak to one of our team.

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User-generated content for learning – a quick glossary


What is user-generated content in learning and corporate training?

User-generated content in learning and corporate training is any learning content created by learners, subject matter experts and other employees, not the in-house learning and development team. This training content is then shared internally to pass on knowledge, experience and stories to those who need it.

There are various types of UGC used in training. If the goal is to train or upskill learners, user-generated content can deliver the educational value you need. Some examples of types of user-generated content in learning are:

    • authored and slide-based courses
    • training videos
    • contextual stories, experiences and case studies
    • quizzes
    • podcasts
    • articles

What are the benefits of user-generated content for learning? And, how can user-generated content help instructional designs?

The benefits of user-generated content for elearning include:

    • Builds trust – research shows that people trust their peers over anyone else within their organisation. User-generated content is a relatable, authentic and value-led form of corporate training.
    • Engages learners – User-generated content is often more engaging than traditionally produced content. Learners get a chance to learn from their peers and as such feel a stronger connection that builds engagement. This has been particularly important recently with the prevalence of remote working where UGC is used to provide the sense of community that is missing within a dispersed workforce.
    • Cost-effective – user-generated learning content saves time and money for the organisation. Asking your learners and subject matter experts to share content instead of L&D departments producing training, can drive costs down whilst still creating high-value, meaningful content for learners.
    • Unlocks and shares organisational knowledge – UGC in learning can extract hard-won experiences from the front line, spread good practice from high performers or tease out tacit knowledge. In a large, distributed organisation knowledge sharing is often hard and impersonal. UGC can unlock vital knowledge and experiences kept within the organisation.
    • Scales learning production – UGC can easily scale the production of learning content. Scale in learning is often lost by laborious and time-consuming processes involved with age-old tactics such as real-time interviews with subject matter experts. Additionally, L&D departments can be faced with the reluctance of users to provide the information. UGC for learning, if done correctly, involves workflows that make sure users are enabled to contribute, making it much easier to scale.
    • Promotes social learning and learning in an informal environment – UGC enhances live learning experiences, shares ideas and feedback and makes digital experiences more human. It’s a way of sharing real stories from real people doing real things. Powerful UGC can capture those water cooler moments and transfer them into online spaces, something that is increasingly important with the rise of remote working.
    • Develops skills – by asking employees to share user-generated content, they’re not only creating learning resources to help their peers, but the act of contributing gives them time to reflect and craft concise narratives. This allows them to develop skills like storytelling, communication and critical thinking at the same time and embeds learning to teach others.