The skill sets of Learning & Development (L&D) are shifting. We’re seeing a rise in self-learning, with individuals searching for answers to meet needs in the workflow. We’re also seeing changes in learning needs faster than can be planned and prepared for (e.g. courses written for). And we’re seeing more ambiguous and unique situations. In short, the notion of creating and delivering learning to meet needs is becoming unfeasible. Is there an alternative?
David Kelly of the eLearning Guild has been the clearest voice suggesting that curation is a fundamental role for L&D. Instead of trying to create everything, with the increasing volume of information, the answer probably is out there. The issue is making it available to performers. The question then becomes one of how to find, process, and make resources available?
Kelly makes a point that curation needs a purpose or goal. You should be curating for a reason, to serve as a guide. Otherwise, you’re just collecting. The museum analog is important, museum curators don’t just collect, they select subsets on particular criteria. You need to be clear on for whom you are curating, and to what purpose.
Process (Harold Jarche)
Harold Jarche has been the proponent of a respected approach to personal knowledge management. His Seek – Sense – Share model also provides a useful framework for curation. Each of these elements has a role to play in delivering value out of curation.
The role of seek is to selectively find relevant resources. One of the skills is around search: writing good search phrases and being able to interpret the results. Another is recognizing valuable curators that can serve as filters for you. This seems redundant, but it’s part of the potential source. References from others, and some trial and error work. Another is to set up feeds that are triggered by particular topics of interest. The goal is to find the most relevant stuff, and filter out the rest.
The next step is to make sense of what comes through. Just aggregating what you found would only be collecting. Rohit Bhargava included this in his list of 5 types of curation, but I believe that collecting isn’t enough. A curator adds value. One is by filtering the information that is shared. An associated skill is to be able to interpret the value of the information. An additional skill is to leverage the ratings others put on information, and use that as a way to evaluate the quality of resources found by the Seek phase.
More advanced forms of sensing involve processing the information to extract meaning across resources. One is to look for trends that emerge from the individual resources, changes in focus as things develop. Bhargava calls this "elevation." He also touts mashups, where two things are juxtaposed creating new meanings. Finally, there’s chronology, organizing resources along a timeline. I reckon this is a subset of "organizing," and you might find other organizing schemes such as value, or scope, or use, or… The task is to find meaning that emerges across these elements.
And you want to be searching for feedback from your audience. Sensing isn’t done in a vacuum, but is instead a dialog, where you look for ways to evaluate the sense you make. Do others see it as you do? The way you improve as a curator is by polling the audience of your sharing and listening to their feedback.
Note that there’s a requirement to share. When you’re doing this within the organization for employees or customers/clients, that may be as far as you share. However, the value of such efforts could contribute to the organization’s reputation, so unless there are proprietary issues it might be worth sharing your curation efforts more broadly.
The skills involved including knowing where to share, and how. This includes when and how to share things to your direct customers, and when and how to share things with the broader community.
You share in several ways. Internally, it can be both collecting resources in a portal and tagging them with terms that will assist your workers to find them. It could also be through a regular stream of announcements of what’s been discovered. Obviously, these can (and probably should) be combined. There is also the selective recommendation through observation of worker and their needs.
It’s important to engage with those who provide the information at the "seek" stage. The true value of the internet is where everyone contributes what they can as well as takes what they need. Lurking is a legitimate network activity, but if you’re processing the information, putting it out the processed version out there rewards those who are doing the same. And it’s a way to get feedback and improve your curation.
There are substantial benefits to be found. To be sure, processing information has been part of the job of instructional design: taking content such as PDFs and PPTs as a source for courses. Here, the role is not to entirely process the information, but instead to cull valuable bits and make them available. This requires less work than creating total courses, and in many instances will support more effective use. Again, the courses you used to create may not be able to be finished before they’re out of date!
To be successful at curation means you need to truly understand the work that those you are supporting perform. Curation requires an awareness of the domain and the users. This shouldn’t be news to L&D, of course, who should be responding to needs of their constituents.
And this is a valuable addition to the role L&D plays in the organization. By facilitating the learning at the point of need, there’s more direct transfer and less time taken. Using curated resources instead of creating them can also save time and money!
The advantage of curation means that you are leveraging other’s effort. You find the right resources, instead of having to create them. This means, of course, that one of the issues you need to be aware of is intellectual property. While your own consumption should use legitimate channels, material you pass on may require various sorts of rights. Even internally, the nature of digital materials means that an audit can reveal misappropriation of resources. Respecting people’s rights is not only the right way to behave, but also is a responsibility to your organization!
And this doesn’t mean you won’t still have to create some things. When you do, as far as possible, share them as well. The resource economy means that we all benefit to the extent we all share. If there’s value, there’s also a reason to think about whether there’s a market, too. Just as you may purchase access to a suite of curated content that meets your needs on a cost-effective basis, so too you might have a valuable asset.
One thing to be aware of is that not all of your folks may be well-equipped to take advantage of resources: finding them or using them. Unfortunately, learning to learn skills aren’t well-developed by schools and universities. There’re two roles: making sure elements are easy to find, and developing skills to find and use resources. For the former, creating portals that are user-focused is one aspect. A second aspect is tagging the tools to be found and supporting federated search within the organization. For the latter, don’t assume these skills. A learning organization should be explicit about, assess, and develop these skills. This includes showing how to find and use resources in the organization in any training or formal learning, and also coaching (and developing manager’s skills so they can coach as well.
One of the mantras of modern L&D is "curation before creation!" Overall, curation is a valuable strategy to efficiently and effectively meet real needs in the organization. You can assist and develop people with the minimum of resources to maximum effect. And that’s the type of outcomes you will increasingly need to leverage. Go forth, and curate!