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Training & Learning

Decentralized Learning in Practice: How Visa Leverages User-Generated Content

For a lot of L&D leaders, a decentralized learning strategy based on User-Generated Content (UGC) is the key to engaging teams with exciting learning experiences. By supporting subject-matter experts to share their knowledge, you can help everyone grow together. 

But as helpful as UGC is to creating a stimulating and responsive learning environment, it also poses some challenges. How can you ensure a consistent learning experience? And how are your learners supposed to know which content is most important? 

As one of the world’s biggest names in payment technology, Visa has been an early adopter of UGC in learning. Recently, I had the chance to chat with Gaurav Maheshwari, Senior Director of Content and Knowledge Management at Visa University, about the strategies he uses to ensure consistently great learning experiences with UGC.

We got started with a discussion about Visa’s lean approach to L&D.

Scaling learning within a lean organization 

As Senior Director of Content and Knowledge Management for Visa University, Gaurav oversees a broad scope of digital content assets. “I lead our learning content strategy, which means I manage the content that we buy, the content we build, and the content our users create.” 

“Visa is one of the biggest global brands, with a foundation of over 60 years working with customers in over 200 countries and territories. We’re a tech company working in the payment industry, and the tech side of things is moving really fast, especially now.” 

“Despite being a major brand, with a global presence and a large volume of customers, we manage to stay very lean,” says Gaurav. “People are surprised to find out we’re only 20,000 employees worldwide. Five years ago we were only 10,000, so we’ve doubled our presence.”

So, how does Visa factor this lean focus into its learning strategy?

Leveraging subject-matter expertise through User-Generated Content

“Our per-employee productivity is extremely important, which is why we’ve been working with subject-matter experts since our inception,” says Gaurav. “We want to harness the knowledge they carry, whether that’s through our faculty program, leaders as teachers, or hosting dedicated learning events.” 

On top of these programs, Gaurav and his team also needed to find a way for subject-matter experts to capture and share their knowledge. As he explains, the key was to support these experts to create their own UGC to help others learn.

“Subject-matter expertise is a critical factor in our learning strategy, because it helps us focus on increasing productivity through sharing internal knowledge,” he says. “Leveraging UGC gives us a way to turn that expertise into great learning material.”

However, this focus on UGC also gave rise to some new challenges for Visa. 

Related: How We Use Peer Learning to Keep Our Company’s Competitive Edge

Our per-employee productivity is extremely important, which is why we’ve been working with subject-matter experts since our inception.

The 3 major challenges of User-Generated Content

As Gaurav explains, Visa’s focus on UGC resulted in a lot of learning material. “The idea was to bring all of the assets that we’re buying from third-party libraries, building through Visa University, and creating with individual users. We wanted to have it all in one place, which is why we moved to a learning experience platform.”

“Since then, we’ve gone through an evolution when it comes to leveraging UGC. We started by letting users decide what should be shared, meaning if something wasn’t relevant it wouldn’t show up on the front pages. That was when UGC was quite a new idea in the learning space.” 

In reality, this focus on UGC gave rise to some new considerations for Gaurav: making sure that content wasn’t inconsistent, outdated, or too overwhelming for learners.

1. Inconsistent content

First, Gaurav and the Visa University L&D team had to tackle the challenge of ensuring consistent content.

“Our decentralized approach worked well early on,” he says. “People were excited to share their ideas, but over a period of time we started to face some challenges. For example, how do we ensure consistency with the content? How do we make sure there is a single source of truth?”

2. Outdated content

Alongside the need for consistency in learning content, Gaurav also had to manage a library of material that was in need of constant updating

“How do we deal with content that is outdated, and which needs to be retired?” he says. “What do we do when there are broken or dead links, or where we have duplicate content?”

Finally, Gaurav also faced a common problem with UGC: too much of a good thing.

3. Too much content

“We also received some feedback in our engagement surveys that people were overwhelmed with too many responses when searching on the platform,” says Gaurav. “Having these tools at everyone’s disposal, on their mobiles and their laptops, made it easy to create learning assets. The downside was, we simply had too much content.”

“We realized our platform was becoming a content dumping ground. Everybody had good intentions, because they wanted to share their knowledge. But learners had to spend more time searching. Then, when they found the right content, they weren’t always sure it was relevant.”

So, how did Visa overcome these three challenges of UGC? They developed a four-pillar approach focused on ensuring an impactful experience for learners.

Related: Authoring Tool: Create Impactful Courses in Minutes With Collaborative Learning

People were overwhelmed with too many responses when searching on the platform.

Visa’s 4-pillar approach to managing User-Generated Content

For Gaurav, developing a four-pillar approach to managing UGC helped to ensure Visa was leveraging subject-matter expertise consistently. “We started looking into four aspects of managing our UGC. These are substance, structure, workflow, and governance:

  1. Substance refers to the learning content itself;
  2. Structure relates to how we curate and organize our learning content;
  3. Workflow consists of the roles and processes around how we get UGC to people when and where they need it; and
  4. Governance consists of our learning policies and guidelines.” 

As Gaurav explains, this four-pillar approach strikes a balance between ensuring consistent content and incentivizing people to contribute their expertise. “Our focus is on keeping the system under control and still encouraging users to generate and share content.”

This approach helps Visa make its UGC even more impactful in order to meet learner needs. “Now, we’re using collaborative ownership to maintain quality standards and make sure we don’t have too much content,” says Gaurav. “There are some simple steps we can take, like making sure content is tagged accurately so that people can find it.”

These four pillars illustrate the role of L&D in a modern, decentralized learning organization. “For each piece of learning content, we ask ourselves: is the content useful? Is it discoverable? Who owns it? Is it credible? When we add it to the system, do we need to remove something?”

This focus on ensuring quality learning content is a key part of Collaborative Learning. By iterating over time and reviewing existing material, Visa ensures its library of learning content is always up-to-date, and always reflects current learning needs.

For Gaurav, ensuring a great learner experience comes down to one key skill: content curation.

L&D teams have to create less content - but they have to know how to curate content to match learning needs.

Curation is key to ensuring consistent User-Generated Content

“At Visa, we’ve made significant progress on our content management and curation, but it’s still an evolving area. We need to embrace the idea that curation is more than just the aggregation of learning material. You also need to be selective and show how it all fits together.”

As Gaurav explains, curating UGC is a key way to ensure consistent and tailored learning experiences. “Content curation is a key survival skill. It’s always been relevant, but it’s more relevant now than ever, because there’s so much information available. L&D teams have to create less content - but they have to know how to curate content to match learning needs.”

Thanks again to Gaurav for taking the time to share these helpful and inspiring insights!  

While you’re here, check out my expert interviews with Kelli Dunaway of law firm Bryan Cave on using L&D to become a strategic client partner, and with Rachel Peck of Harry’s Inc. on decentralized L&D with self-directed and collaborative learning.

Want more peer insights on transforming workplace learning? Check out #CLOConnect, our interview series with top L&D leaders on driving growth and scaling culture through Collaborative Learning. Or you can subscribe (below 👇) to our weekly newsletter to receive our latest posts directly in your inbox.