Integrating user-generated video into eLearning offers a powerful way to provide real-life context for instruction and assessment or inspire behavior change.

“The best part about it is that it gets directly to subject matter experts,” said Tara Bryan, the owner of TLS Learning. “By putting the ability to create video in the hands of your subject matter experts, you get that rich knowledge transfer from them that anybody can watch.”

Provide step-by-step instructions

Streamline the learning process by having the experts teach: SMEs can record screencasts of the steps of a process as they explain the steps on the audio. This is a clever way to get camera-shy experts to teach learners a concept, a procedure, or how to use software, said Bryan, who will present “1-2-3 Action! Creating Guidelines for User-Generated Videos” at The eLearning Guild’s Using Video for Learning Spotlight on December 6. One client who has used this approach has found that “it has really opened up their training, for them to be able to effectively get a lot more content out there.”

Short instructional videos can be very useful to learners, who can watch them over and over as needed, even calling up the eLearning videos for a quick refresh at the moment they need to do the procedure.

A caveat: “Subject matter experts have different definitions of ‘short,’” Bryan said, adding that she aims to keep videos between two and five minutes. “We try to get them to focus on one discrete topic that they are sharing,” she said, and to break more complex topics or processes into several shorter videos.

Assess learning and proficiency

Learners can record themselves performing a task or process to show that they have mastered skills taught in eLearning or face-to-face training. Not only does a user-generated video provide evidence that the person can do the task, it can alleviate test anxiety that could interfere with learners’ performance on written tests.

This application of user-generated video has been implemented by Comcast, according to Guy Sellwood, whose team designed the learning and assessment program. Comcast engineers, who previously took written tests to demonstrate skills needed for promotions, warmly embraced the shift. Comcast has also employed user-generated video in training for new hires, replacing less-successful training methods such as asking each new hire to make a presentation to the learning cohort. “Comcast Uses Mobile to Deepen Learning and Verify Skills” details Comcast’s innovative use of these techniques to enhance and measure learning.

Drive behavior change

Rather than relying on top-down instruction regarding corporate values and culture, ask employees to share stories and experiences. Anecdotal video storytelling—“any kind of sharing of a particular story or best practice”—can be an effective driver of behavior change, Bryan said. “You get a little bit of that ‘story’ element: ‘Here’s something to watch out for,’ or ‘Here’s something that worked really well for me,’ or ‘Try this one thing…’”

Bryan described a client that successfully used this approach to change their culture around customer experience. Her team prepared eLearning that explained the model and had company leaders presenting the desired changes. “And then we did a whole piece on how their team members are applying the behaviors and the values,” Bryan said. “We did that within the course—and then, outside of the course, we actually created an intranet page where people could put their own videos: ‘Here’s how I am using the behaviors or the values to be more successful with my customers.’ It created a movement that was beyond an educational piece; it created a this real-life application.”

The social element was a key to the success of the campaign, she said. And it was “super easy” to implement. “We just had them record at their desk with iPhones and selfie sticks and whiteboards if they wanted them, and they went to town,” she said. “We got a ton of videos that we were able to use in different places—and that changed behavior,” she said. “It wasn’t about the model and the values; it was, ‘This is how so-and-so used this on the job! That’s a great idea! I’ll try that next time.’”

Flexibility is essential when adding user-generated video to eLearning

While easy to implement, there are potential pitfalls, Bryan warns.

Provide options for camera-shy users and SMEs. A common problem when L&D professionals want to create video featuring employees is that people are reluctant to appear on camera. Bryan said that her teams have tried using “man on the street” interviews, but these are less successful than the screencast or anecdotal approaches. “A lot of times, people are uncomfortable: one, being on camera, and two, coming up with something off the top of their head.” Narrating a screencast solves the problem neatly, and even with the anecdotal videos, she said, users had the option of writing their message on a whiteboard or narrating it without appearing in the video.

Be willing to sacrifice some quality. User-generated video is unlikely to be of the same quality as video that the learning team plans, records in a studio, and edits. “That was one of the big conversations that we had,” Bryan said. But, “I think that there is a place for that kind of video, and then there’s a place for user-generated video. They are both valuable.”

The source of much resistance is the “learning team or the executive team or whoever is controlling the messaging. They are just nervous about handing people a camera or letting them use their phones,” she said. But, from the learners’ perspective, getting video from the SMEs explaining concepts and procedures has “made a huge difference to how they’re getting that tribal knowledge, the on-the-job training that they weren’t able to get before.”

Discourage users from “winging it.” The user-generated videos have to be short; one way to rein in SMEs who might “over-talk,” Bryan said, is planning. Her team gives the SMEs guidelines for planning their videos and advises them to have a content outline that chunks complex ideas into small, focused pieces. She also said that, once SMEs do some videos and see the feedback, they learn what works—and get better and better.