It may seem daunting to switch your learning approach from top-down to bottom-up. However, when introduced correctly, this change can be swift and immediately beneficial. How do you make the shift correctly?

Last year we conducted a large-scale survey (n=259) of L&D professionals. We combined these findings with in-depth discussions with learning managers from Nielsen, Kellogg’s and Unilever—organizations that have implemented successful bottom-up learning programs. The results showed that step one to changing your learning approach is changing the stakeholders’ mindset. If you want your L&D department to shift from top-down to bottom-up models, start by teaching stakeholders the inherent advantages and convincing them to buy in.

Which stakeholders are these? Our respondents pinpointed three groups whose mindsets they wanted to change: upper-level management, direct colleagues in L&D, and employees. The real challenge is addressing preconceived notions about traditional learning approaches and what’s expected of L&D departments.

In this article, we offer advice on creating a business case with these key stakeholders, so they all embrace collaboration and an employee-driven learning culture as the best way forward.

Learning culture and employee engagement

According to bestselling author Kevin Kruse, there’s a direct correlation between engaged employees and astonishing business outcomes. In recent decades, we’ve witnessed major cultural shifts within many organizations. Traditionally, companies created a culture that reflected their core values or mission. Today, most successful firms define their culture through the lens of employee engagement. This started changing how employees are valued and treated, which has led to greater employee engagement and stronger business outcomes.

How can HR departments promote engagement at a time of cultural shift? By ditching outdated, top-down engagement strategies. Smart HR and L&D teams are already moving towards a bottom-up learning culture.

What are bottom-up learning models?

Bottom-up learning is managed by the employees themselves. It addresses the 80 percent of knowledge that is needed 20 percent of the time. This is particularly important in organizations dealing with constant change. Bottom-up learning is cheaper, more responsive, less controlling, less patronizing, and altogether more in tune with the times.

An emerging model in this space is employee-generated learning (EGL), in which employees or subject-matter experts (SMEs) own part of their learning needs and create their own training content. In this model, L&D partners with employees and empowers them to create content and share their knowledge. The idea is based on co-creation, collaboration, and knowledge sharing. It triggers engagement by making employees instrumental in driving, voicing, and creating the flow of knowledge.

As employees gain recognition for their knowledge-sharing efforts, they establish themselves as experts. This results in empowerment. Employees are empowered by contributing and making a difference in their areas of expertise. Empowerment is the best form of employee engagement because employees drive the business while managing personal and business priorities.

Introducing EGL

What does it take to introduce an employee-driven learning model like EGL, and how can you convince the stakeholders?

Business leaders

With EGL, employees create and maintain learning content themselves. Content creation is faster and cheaper because there’s no dependency on external parties like instructional designers or third-party suppliers. Putting employees in charge of creating content ensures that business leaders are aligned with business problems and relevant learning solutions.

How to make it happen?

  • Communicate the possibilities and benefits of EGL with leaders and get them involved as co-champions for change.
  • Use proven best practices to build a stronger case.
  • Assure them that EGL aligns content with performance, which directly impacts business results.

Employees and subject matter experts (SMEs)

With EGL, employees are more engaged than before because they actively co-create relevant learning content to meet business goals. By equipping their colleagues with knowledge, they can achieve more with fewer resources. EGL also provides opportunities for SMEs to develop their own careers by establishing themselves as experts on the topics they’re most passionate about.

How to make it happen?

  • Treat employees not as learners but as co-creators of learning content. Employees create and maintain the content, so L&D must encourage them to take ownership of the process.
  • Encourage self-initiatives and don’t penalize mistakes. Employees will only be motivated if they’re rewarded for effective performance.
  • Provide the right conditions and collaborative software tools (a rich, searchable intranet, forums, wikis, blogs, best-practice communities, etc.).


EGL frees L&D to focus on strategic initiatives because it shares their work with SMEs who are qualified to develop content. Instead of sitting down with SMEs to create content, L&D plays a behind-the-scenes role, offering guidance and support. This self-service model works perfectly for L&D departments with limited budgets and shrinking teams, allowing them to steer changes from the bottom up.

How to make it happen?

  • Reassure L&D colleagues about their evolving role from content creators to coaches. Encourage them to be more strategic and flexible within this new model.
  • Encourage them to think like a start-up and act like a product manager to begin making small changes in a truly employee-engaged style.


For years, educational institutions and employers have controlled employees’ development and failed to develop a self-learning, peer-sharing workforce. However, thanks to ubiquitous, affordable technologies, today’s employees are far more independent and social in how they learn and work. This reveals a mismatch between the spoon-fed culture and self-regulated practices. To create the right culture that fits the workforce, it’s time to embrace their autonomy.  Empower your employees. Provide them with the motivation, the means, and the opportunities to leverage their strengths. Your company’s culture should match that of the outside world, in which social sharing and autonomy are essential elements. Employees will feel comfortable in this environment and will be able to excel. This will bring about the change in culture that leaders desire.


Insights.Engagement is a culture change.”

Spiro, Kasper.Boost Employee Engagement with Knowledge-Sharing.” Modern Workplace Learning Magazine. 27 March 2018.

Tekeli, Cha. Let’s Change Our Perception Of Employee Engagement.” Forbes Coaches Council. 8 January 2018.