Nuts and Bolts of Employee-generated Learning


Today’s knowledge-intensive organizations rely heavily on an underlying wealth of knowledge to stay relevant in the business world. However, keeping up the knowledge currency to upskill the employees rapidly and sharing knowledge or passing it down to newer generations of employees is not always straightforward.

In this context, we propose to implement an Employee-generated Learning model (EGL) that is driven by L&D, but co-owned and managed by employees themselves – this ecosystem allows the full potential of democratic learning to unfold. Instead of saying, “Sorry, that’s outside the scope of what we can do”, the learning teams can now offer a well-supported solution to stakeholders with smaller requests and retain their focus on key global initiatives.

According to Gartner, “By 2018, more than eighty percent of organizations will leverage employee-generated content for their corporate learning strategy to improve employee engagement and increase productivity.”

This learning model combines the principles of “communities of practice” (CoP) with social learning concepts. When introducing an employee-driven learning model, the L&D department’s task is to facilitate knowledge- sharing by tapping into CoPs and offering tools for collecting knowledge so it can be smoothly transferred from one generation to the next, or from one area of the business to another.

Getting started

Here are a few recommendations on how to get started with Employee-generated Learning:

1. Start small, identify the sweet spots

Every organization has a huge volume of untapped tactical knowledge that exists on the work floor but isn’t necessarily recorded in writing. The idea is to capture and share this collective know-how of best practices.

  • Start with sweet spots where employee needs intersect with business needs and technological capabilities.
  • We are not advocating to replace classroom training, rather we recommend finding those sweet spots where employees can step up and handle L&D demands for themselves.

2. Provide the guidance, be the L&D coach

As a learning expert, you are in a unique position to share best practices and strategies for creating content. Provide guidance and enablement to employees, teaching subject matter experts to fish on their own.

  • Provide the right tools and platforms to employees – Choose tools that are intuitive and easy to use to capture knowledge and essentially blend in with SMEs’ working style.
  • Develop a central hub where employees can find and share knowledge on how to create training. It could be a wiki, an Intranet page, a WordPress site, or even part of the portal to your learning management system.

3. Partner with HR, regional teams, and senior leaders

Employee generated learning is a democratic learning model that embraces the power of community and hence, it is vital for L&D to garner adoption and buy-in from the business leaders.

  • Work with your HR and business leaders to adopt and promote the working and value-add of this approach.
  • A gentle push from a favorite business leader can create a wave of inspiration among your employees to participate in knowledge creation.

4. Empower SMEs and Co-create learning resources

Besides the business stakeholders, you also need to involve employees who are your actual knowledge creators. Foster a “co-development” model which recognizes employees as experts and encourages dialogue between employees and the L&D department.

  • Inform employees so the learning curve is not as steep when they start using the tools for themselves.
  • Encourage employees to think beyond functional subjects like engineering/manufacturing and give them enough examples to think beyond courses. For example, learning in crucial areas like compliance can also be achieved by sharing simple anecdotes or experiences that demonstrate the practical side of compliance rules.
  • Appreciation plays a big role in continuing the knowledge sharing behaviors – harness it and inspire more SMEs to join the knowledge revolution.

5. Leverage Feedback and Analytics

Solicit employee feedback and gather analytics to continually improve what you offer. Together with employee feedback, you’ll have a gold mine for ways to improve existing and future knowledge resources.

–     Employee feedback can come from a variety of sources, including comments on an enterprise social network, ratings on the quality of a course, and emails and conversations.

–      Leverage back-end analytics to track usage and performance-related data that are relevant to your business: e.g., the volume of users, geographic location of users, content viewed, average time spent in a course or number of questions answered incorrectly in a course.

 Word of Caution

Let us remind you that an Employee-generated Learning model is not the answer for everything, it may not be appropriate in all situations. For example, safety and compliance training is typically seen as high stakes and may not be handed off to employees. Follow the guiding principles in your organization – but don’t be afraid to challenge them either.

Key Resistors

L&D might say, “Is my job secure? Will the power dynamics shift?”

While SMEs manage their own knowledge needs and create their own content, L&D can now focus on strategic projects, including high-profile content, and also consult with employees to give them timely guidance. You don’t create content, you direct it!

Business leaders might say, “SMEs lack the conventional L&D skills. How can you trust them to take over your L&D activities?”

Fair enough, SMEs do not know how to present information in a pedagogically sensible way, However, it is important not to overlook how much valuable knowledge SMEs bring to the table. Better than anyone else, they know what works to fix a problem, how to deal with a situation, what doesn’t work, what is outdated, what new team members should know, etc. In essence, they know what it takes to keep knowledge fluid, to constantly remove the bottlenecks, and prepare their teams to meet fast-changing business needs.


Employee-generated Learning is a highly agile approach to employee training because it taps into the employee base’s existing body of knowledge and empowers colleagues to share and adapt knowledge in a fast-paced, cost-effective, and decentralized way. A critical factor for success, particularly within large organizations, has been to start with small pilot programs to gain vital experience and insights before scaling to larger segments of the business. Establishing strong partnerships with management, HR and regional L&D teams at an early stage is also highly beneficial.

Organizations benefit from encouraging employees to be self-motivated, self-reliant and confident in recognizing their learning needs and sharing the responsibility for meeting them with the L&D department. Thus, it paves way for the long aspired self-directed and continuous learning cycle.

  • Do not replace formal training; instead, complement it with an Employee-generated Learning strategy.
  • Work together with HR and business leaders for buy-in, involvement, and promotion.
  • Foster collaboration between subject-matter experts (SMEs) and the L&D department, to create a joint ownership of a knowledge base that employees can use to self-serve their learning needs.
  • Provide an infrastructure that enables SMEs to share knowledge effortlessly and integrates with the existing setup.