Director Productive Limited
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Content curation in learning and development

14th Sep 2011

Content curation on the web is helping to establish more order to the vast array of information being generated. Julie Wdegwood looks at the opportunities for L&D.

Recently there has been quite a discussion going on about the term “Content Curator” and what it means.  Donald Clark states on his blog that a “Curator, to my mind, suggests someone who oversees a dusty, old collection of curiosities to do with the past; not the exciting virtual, digital and social media world of the future.”

This view of any type of curator is very out of date. Curators are most frequently associated with art and artifacts, but today the museums that house these treasures are predominately lively, interactive and ever changing, not the static museums of the last century. 

The Millennium Seed Bank for example, might sound like an odd collection to go and visit, but it offers visitors a wide range of opportunity to learn from their curation activities as well as why their curation is so important. So perhaps those who seek to argue that the term is wrong should spend a Sunday afternoon visiting a museum or collection and find out how modern curation has moved with the times.

"Tagging sites helped us share content that we found as well as retain it for ourselves."

Content curation on the web has been an organic response to the need to try and establish more order to the vast array of information being generated. Sir Tim Berners Lee’s original plan for the web in 1989 consisted of three principles, namely to:

  1. Allow access to any type of document (achieved).
  2. Allow everyone to disseminate their own documents (achieved);
  3. And to allow everyone to organise the entire collection of documents – well that’s a bit more tricky considering the staggering figures about how much content there is out there. 

However, attempts to organise web content have been going on for some considerable time. It started with being able to rate or "like" or favorite content, then bloggers started to provide links to relevant content about a particular subject on their pages. Tagging sites helped us share content that we found as well as retain it for ourselves and of course then there was Twitter. 

With Twitter came the advent of hashtags, lists, then daily digests and content curation takes the organic growth in organising content further.

Consider this as a definition of a content curator from Rohit Bhargava in 2009: "A content curator is someone who continually finds, groups, organises and shares the best and most relevant content on a specific issue online."

Now Bhargava was not talking about content curation for learning but for marketing. Nevertheless the idea of content curation has really taken hold now across the web, and not just for marketers.

So why should content curation be relevant to learning? Well L&D practices have been steadily moving away from a reliance on formal structured learning to more informal methods, with emphasis on performance support. Charles Jennings has shared his views on the value of the 70:20:10 model for workplace learning, and curation fits well with that. 

As learners are given access to informal and social learning methods such as internal micro-blogging, forums, internal blogs and other such tools, often the content generated is of real value, but who is valuing it? If the content generated is of value to the organisation then it needs to be shared widely for the good of the business. 

As Bhargava says:  "… curation does not focus on adding more content/noise to the chaotic information overload of social media, and instead focuses on helping any one of us to make sense of this information by bringing together what is most important".

So the model that I designed for curating content inside organisations has been focused on the content created by staff whilst they work and learn using social media tools. I’ve worked with my customers to find a model that makes sense to them,  helping their staff navigate their way through the internally generated content to find relevant, practical and helpful data.

In the workplace, staff are busy doing their jobs. They predominately want to improve their performance but often find it difficult to find time for learning. My L&D content curation model includes not only categorising and collecting the content but also specifying how long it will take to review each piece of content (for example, a five-minute YouTube video, a 15 minute read or a ten-minute podcast). This gives the staff the opportunity to plan their time better and has proved to be a very popular and appreciated addition.

In many ways it encourages the staff to review the content because they can see upfront how much time they need to set aside from their work or whether the content is something they can download and review on the move using a mobile.

Content lifespan is evaluated and the content marked with a date when it will cease to be of value. This has proved to be very important in scientific related curation as well as for product and service related content. No one in their right mind wants to provide information to a potential customer that is out of date. Just how up-to-date is that e-learning content on your LMS? 

Providing an expiry date for the content forces the curator to constantly keep content fresh and relevant to the business drivers and current issues. Internal equivalents of daily digests can be issued where relevant, particularly when there is a fast moving project or initiative underway.

To make curation work internally, L&D professionals have to not only understand the learning and performance support needs of the organisation, but also the core business and the current issues. The results have been that L&D are seen as more focussed on the strategic needs of the business; are able to augment formal learning with current issues and content and are acknowledged to be capturing the knowledge and performance enhancing data that is in the business, for the business and sharing it as widely as possible.

There may come a time when there is no longer a need for L&D to do this, as workplace learning becomes more embedded and as internal content curators appear naturally within the business and it becomes part of the job role of some individuals. However, in the meantime, content curation for learning is a model worth exploring for any organisation that is seeking to provide workplace learning that is more informal and performance-support based. 

Julie Wedgwood is a director at Productive Limited. For more information visit www.juliewedgwood.com.

 

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