28 Jul Can you effectively crowdsource training?

In 2005 when Jeff Howe and Mark Robinson took the concept of “outsourcing to the crowd” and coined the term “crowdsourcing”, I suspect they were not thinking about it in terms of training.  Ten years later, there are many companies that have adopted this concept successfully in the L&D world. In my conversations with some of these best practice companies I’ve learned that crowdsourcing can be effective for both the development and delivery of training. Let’s use the example of creating a sales training program. Typically an instructional designer would have to work closely with subject matter experts to create content. What if, instead, they utilized an online discussion forum and posed a simple question to the sales group like “What would you need to know to sell more product?” The information gained from the discussion threads would allow for the group to define the objectives of the content, and in some cases, create the content by sharing best practices. Even prior to the development of the training program, crowdsourcing has been used to conduct effective TNAs (training needs assessments). One company I worked with had recognized that their training programs were extremely under utilized and actually debated whether or not to continue funding them. They conducted a 72-hour online training “Innovation Jam” where employees across the globe were asked to identify training needs. The result of over 800 discussion threads and over 6,000 individual responses was that training was needed more than ever, but that the wrong programs were being made available. Not only was this the ultimate TNA, but also resulted in a complete overhaul of the L&D function – all based on the power of crowdsourcing.

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From a delivery standpoint, sharing knowledge across an organization, especially a global organization, can sometimes be difficult. One of the most effective examples of utilizing crowdsourcing for training is where the world’s largest manufacturing company decided to leverage the knowledge of their technicians to train peers via video. The idea was to post a technical question online and have their top technicians create short video tutorials (“selfies”) to answer the question. These tutorials were uploaded directly to an online social video management platform where the content could be properly vetted, tagged and published. This resulted in hundreds of video tutorials being shared, rated, discussed and thousands of technicians being trained worldwide. The content being created by the “crowd” and managed by the learning and development staff. So, how do you leverage these crowdsourcing bets practices? Start with these tips:

  • Leverage online discussion forums or social networks
  • Choose the right crowd to source
  • Ask direct questions to targeted audiences
  • Validate the responses

Some professionals believe that crowdsourcing training is risky and could create more problems than solutions, I would argue that done right it can greatly reduce the development cycle, increase time to market and boost employee engagement.

Ed Flahive
Chief Learning Officer – Videonitch