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August 4, 2020

The People Have the Power: A Case for the Democratization of Content

You may have heard the phrase, “democratization of content.” But what does that mean for training and learning and development professionals? And why should you care?

The phrase took off when we—formerly consumers of “content” (information in newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, etc.)—began to use the internet to produce and distribute our own ideas. There was a massive expansion of content away from traditional providers in established media into the hands of ordinary citizens.

Once controlled by a limited number of gatekeepers, content exploded horizontally across a huge number of new channels—YouTube, blogs, and social media to name a few. This broke the mold of traditional content creation and gave anyone with the time and interest a platform to create and share content.

But for a variety of reasons—including industry regulation, legacy processes, technology limitations, and traditional approaches to L&D—this same content democratization did not play out in the business world. The average person has turned into a content machine—but only outside of work.

To put this in context, there are 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day, according to Forbes. Ninety percent of the data in the world was generated in the last two years alone. This data includes all the videos we upload to YouTube (300 hours of video every minute), photos and videos we share on Instagram (95 million a day), comments we post on Facebook (510,000 comments a day), and new songs we list on Spotify (13 a minute), and more. We’re sharing content and learning from that content at a speed never before seen in the history of the world.

So, what happens if this democratic revolution finally spills over into our professional lives? What will the lasting impact be on L&D professionals?

Democratized Content Drives Growth

Stepping back into our current reality, content creation at work is most definitely not democratized, except at the most forward-looking organizations. Yet these companies offer us a glimpse into the future. They’ve adapted the content creation capabilities available to all—digital, mobile, video, and peer-to-peer networking—for business use. They built cultures of learning in which the power of creating, curating, publishing and sharing content resides in the hands of learners at all levels, from front-line workers to C-level executives.

“Forward-looking organizations offer a glimpse into a future in which content creation capabilities are available to all.”

Democratized content gives these organizations a way to harvest unique and valuable insights from across their workforces to drive growth. This is what modern learning organizations look like, and why leaders of learning-related functions–training, sales enablement, onboarding, human resources, career development—need to pay attention to this trend.

To be clear: Democratizing content does not mean that the power to create content rests in the hands of the few who have administrative rights to the learning platform. It does not depend on planning in advance what learners will need to be productive. It does not rely on anticipating company challenges that would require reskilling employees. It does not try to predict the future.

Rather it embraces the notion of learning from the ground up, opening content creation and collaboration to all employees. It acknowledges that employees achieve peak performance when they are highly engaged with one another and when they have shared ownership over the content that is going to make the most impact in their daily lives.

“Democratized content means learning from the ground up, opening content creation and collaboration to all employees.”

The Challenge of “Scalable Learning”

Organizations today have moved from a model of “scalable efficiency” to one of “scalable learning.” In the past (even as recently as January), organizations in general understood the best practices and processes to achieve productivity and could anticipate and plan for future challenges. C-level executives could map business cycles and market changes and invest in inventory or labor to achieve their objectives. The business challenge lay in scaling up efficiently to be as productive as possible with as little investment as possible.

Today’s business climate is very different. The challenges of today include unprecedented and unparalleled change that happens so quickly, it’s head-spinning. In this environment, organizations may not know from month to month what challenges their employees and their business will face. Instead of planning year over year, or quarter to quarter, they must adapt on a rolling basis.

This agility is the foundation of corporate resilience, the key to long-term success. When organizations are flexible enough to revise plans in the face of new information, competitors, market changes, or unprecedented disruptions, they can dodge and weave like the best prize fighters.

But to do this requires an agile workforce that has the tools and knowledge to act. This assumes a learning system and processes that are primed to equip them. In this scenario, “old” content that was produced to train on legacy products or approaches will not suffice.

“When organizations are flexible enough to revise plans in the face of new information, they can dodge and weave like the best prize fighters.”

Rapidly changing markets require rapid response. The people who know the most about these changes are those on the front lines: client-facing teams and sales representatives who hear the pains and challenges of customers every day. Subject matter experts who have their pulse on the industry and are alert to headwinds or market evolutions that signal change ahead. These insights are lost when they’re either siloed within teams or not harvested and shared internally.

Building a Modern Culture of Learning

Every day that employee knowledge isn’t shared, the brilliance of your employees dissipates, seeping away from your organization, and potentially costing you millions of dollars in lost opportunities or unforeseen challenges that you were not prepared to overcome. When your learning content is not democratized, there’s no way for these front-line experts to record, publish, and share their observations.

Your organization can only reap the benefits and react nimbly to new information when content creation is democratic—when those who have the knowledge can share their wisdom across teams.

To achieve your goals in today’s evolving climate—in which both employers and employees face unprecedented pressures—you cannot simply disseminate information using old-school tactics. Legacy approaches typically rely on platforms that were developed before smartphones redefined how we play, shop, bank, travel and, yes, learn. They don’t allow organizations to embed learning in the daily lives of employees so they can absorb at work the way they do in their personal lives.

“To achieve your goals in today’s evolving climate, you cannot simply disseminate information using old-school tactics.”

In 2020, workforce enablement initiatives must leverage internal experts and informal learning to foster collaboration and transform learners from consumers of content to active participants in the learning process. This means unlocking the gates and truly democratizing content.

How to Be a Winner

As with every major change, the democratization of content will bring both winners and losers.

The losers will be the complacent organizations that foster a “wild west” mentality by allowing rogue (off-brand and off-message) content creation to occur in siloed environments. Or those who think the answer to content consistency is to create a “content prison” where creation is restricted to the central learning teams.

The winners will create learning cultures in which employees—client-facing teams, subject matter experts, and anyone who has information to share—are empowered to create customized, relevant material and use AI to filter, curate, and track content. A culture in which L&D teams will be able to spend more time on the strategic projects that will actually move the needle, and less time scrambling to keep up with ever-changing content needs and policing rogue content.

While traditional learning platforms offer employees access to a wealth of external sources, a true culture of learning captures and curates the valuable expertise that lives within your organization. It leverages learner-generated content so that employees can share with their colleagues. The best models promote interactivity and foster teamwork among employees in a way that spurs creativity, reinforces critical knowledge, and unlocks potential. They are built around mobile, video, and peer-to-peer networking technology.

This shift in mindset is critical to transforming L&D from static “top down” courses to employee-driven, collaborative learning. When you can harvest the knowledge within your organization and make it part of the learning experience across departments, share ideas and information, and curate best practices, you create not just a culture of learning, but a new vision that will propel your company forward. So, there’s really only one question that needs to be answered: Are you ready to help usher in the age of democratized content at work?

To see why traditional processes and systems no longer support modern learning, download our new ebook: 6 Priorities of a Modern CLO.

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