Not a museum piece: Curation in Learning & Development

 

Recently, Stefan Reicher wrote on our blog that it does not always have to be web-based trainings (WBTs). But who creates the right mix of all the different formats of digital content? Who keeps track of the constant flow of news and identifies reliable sources? A curator! By now, some consider this an essential role in the L&D team.

 

Curating – From the museum into L&D

Traditionally, we would expect a curator in a museum. Derived from its Latin roots, the curator is a person “taking care” of the collection: Somebody who preserves the collection, selects new items, studies the objects of the collection and makes them accessible to the public in exhibitions. “Collection-making … is a method of producing knowledge”, Hans Ulrich Obrist writes in Ways of Curating. The goal of curating is not only to enlarge the collection but also to put the objects into context, to create connections between them and thereby generate new meaning.

How did curating reach L&D?

 

Why curating?

The way people in organizations are learning is changing. Just like product cycles, the half-life of information is becoming ever shorter. At times, companies cannot produce content about these changes fast enough to satisfy their staff's demand. At the same time, we are facing a flood of information. Under these circumstances David Kelley believes: “Curation in a digital world isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.”

Many employees simply google. In Jane Hart’s Learning in the Workplace Survey, this year,“Web search (eg Google)” made it to number 3 of the most important ways to learn at work. When staff take search for information into their own hands, they are running the risk of finding wrong or outdated content. Moreover, they might acquire practices that are not welcome in their organization, e.g. because they are not in accordance with security guidelines. To take the search for current and relevant information off employees’ shoulders and pre-select information according to quality criteria content should be curated.

Another advantage of curated content is that it can motivate staff because they can get information by themselves and learn with relative autonomy. Content curation helps to embed learning into work and thus supports informal learning – the way of learning most widely used according to the 70:20:10 model.

 

When is content curation a good choice?

Content curation is a great service to employees who constantly have to stay informed about latest trends, new products, technologies or competitors’ activities. Moreover, curated content can complement formal learning activities and keep the covered information fresh in participants’ memory. You can also use curated content to encourage Social Learning, e.g. by posting an article accompanied by explanations (“This article is interesting for us because …”) or questions (“What do you think?” “How should we react to this?”). A compilation of resources about latest trends or analyses can be useful to clients as well.

 

How does it work?

You curate for pull-content, i.e. for content that staff draw on whenever they believe they need it. This means you need to know your audience well. You need to know when they search for content and what they consider to be relevant. Once these drivers have been identified, you can start your research and filter results. You can also select from materials already shared and possibly produced by staff as these certainly are resources that employees find useful. User-generated content may also reveal needs for performance support. What is central to curation in museums is also important for content curation: Instead of providing materials as found, you may want to combine them, highlight connections or differences between them, put them into context and present them so that they make sense in the situation your staff is in.

 

 

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Finally, you need to bring the information to the people. A number of channels are useful for this task, e.g. newsletters as weekly digests, your intranet or the CRM if you curate for the sales team. You can use your LMS and send weekly notifications to alert staff to new content. Moreover, there are a number of platforms specifically tailored to content curation, such as Anders Pink, which you can easily integrate into Totara LMS by using a plug-in. (If you want to learn more about the process of curation, have a look at Anders Pink’s Content Curation Guide)

It will probably be best to use the platform or medium your audience is already using. An effective search tool is essential so that staff can find content promptly when they urgently need it. This way, your LMS or intranet becomes a service platform for your staff.

 

Challenges

On the one hand, content curation can be used to foster self-directed learning and provide staff with more autonomy. On the other hand, however, it keeps people from practicing their skills in research and critical evaluation of information – skills that are essential for self-directed learning.

Depending on the topic, curated content can also increase the risk of one-sided information. In extreme cases, employees will only find information confirming their own perspective. However, if companies want to evolve, employees also need to be inspired. For this, it takes encounters with the unexpected, the surprising, the startling, the Other. For Obrist curation can be the answer to this as well: "The task of curating is to make junctions, to allow different elements to touch.” These different elements do not necessarily have to be works of art or information. They could also be people, as Obrist writes: “In my practice, the curator has to bridge gaps and build bridges … The crux of this work is to build temporary communities, by connecting different people and practices, and creating the conditions for triggering sparks between them.”

 

Thank you, Armin, Bálint, Mathias, Sedef, and Valerie. In one way or another, the conversations with you sparked off this article. "Only connect!" (E.M. Forster).

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