The volume of information being created is increasing faster than we can make sense of it. Think: blogs, email, wikis, communities of practice. Think: SharePoint, Pinterest, YouTube, Yammer. Indeed, the ease with which organizations can generate, review, and retrieve information has helped them build a considerable amount of potential learning resources. However, it also has led to information overload, confusion, and sometimes even anxiety.
Clearly, there needs to be some way to vet and apply context to this growing reserve of digitally available information—and transform it into practical and applicable knowledge for workers. In other words, we need content curators.
Ben Betts and Allison Anderson, authors of Ready, Set, Curate, explain that a curator collects, transforms, and shares information with a critical mind. Consider art museum curators; they have an agenda and purpose to their acquisitions that helps them filter and distill what they find, rather than simply collect and aggregate. “They remix, refine, and transform content for new purposes,” write Betts and Anderson.
“Curation will play a major role both in the way we teach and in the way we educate ourselves on any topic,” adds Robin Good, who has a chapter in the ATD Press book. Good is a well-known author, speaker, and independent web publisher (MasterNewMedia.org) who focuses on new and effective ways to communicate, market, design, and learn with the help of digital online technologies. On his website Content Curation World, he advises curators to forego quantity in favor of high quality and consistency.
“The job of a curator is to make ideas accessible to as many people as possible,” says Good. “If you can be a guide, a clearinghouse, a trusted place from where to learn, appreciate, and understand more, there is no amount of outbound links that is going to counter the magnetic force you will express to those who are interested in what you are pointing to."
Insight from L&D guru Harold Jarche, profiled in TD magazine’s “The Long View” in July 2015, agrees with Good. “Merely tagging an article does not create knowledge,” says Jarche. He is quick to remind others that there is a significant difference between vetting and selecting individual content items with context versus simply sharing something on social media or making your bookmarks public. True curation is “the process of seeking out information sources, making sense of them through some actions, and then sharing with others to confirm or accelerate our knowledge are interlinked activities from which knowledge (often slowly) emerges,” Jarche notes in a blog post.
Churning of Insight Counts on Community
According to Betts and Anderson, curation can be summed up as the “churning of insight.” This phrase implies four things:
- Curation is a continuing process, not a one-time event.
- By annotating and commenting on resources that are shared, the benefit to the recipient is matched by the benefit to the originator.
- Insight that is widely distributed in an organization is a critical component of decision making and engagement.
- The act of curation is a continuing state that should be aspired to, actively checked, and regularly used.
More importantly, curation cannot be managed by a single source or individual process. Instead, Ready, Set, Curate explains that it is a way of “approaching and making sense of the world by engag-ing in a collective.”
Clay Shirky, NYU professor and author of Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, explains this aspect best: "Curation comes up when people realize that it isn't just about information seeking, it's also about synchronizing a community.” For the L&D professional, this notion presents critical questions: How will you achieve this level of commitment? How will you persuade everyone to participate?
The good news is that an increasing number of people are willing to share content to inspire others (see websites like Pinterest, for example). “For many individuals, their curated insights represent a ‘learning locker,’ allowing for both reflection and a demonstration of what they know,” write Anderson and Betts.
“Allowing learners to contribute in these ways makes creating and maintaining a curated list of resources much more efficient, which is a nice advantage,” agrees Catherine Lombardozzi in Learning Environments by Design. She warns, though, that determining if and how learners may contribute to the curated list is a judgment call, and there is no one right answer.
“Erring on the side of making the environment as open as possible is recommended because it communicates a degree of trust and respect that is a good message to employees,” says Lombardozzi. However, “it’s easy for your ‘curated’ materials to grow into a mountain of resources in which it is impossible to find what you need,” she adds.
Effective Curation Calls for Strategy
A well-designed strategy provides structure to manage a continuous process and a steady volume of content. “A solid strategy helps you focus your efforts on the right topics at the right time, by the right people, and for the right purpose,” writes Anderson.
As organizations begin to build a strategy, she advises L&D pros to explore a few fundamental questions that well help determine purpose, process, players, and tools:
- Why are you curating? For whom?
- How will you curate materials and resources?
- Who will curate? Who else is involved?
- What tools do you have at your disposal, and which one(s) will be most helpful in accomplishing your objective?
Anderson also says that it’s important to think about scale. For example, are you gathering resources in support of a personal project, creating a conference archive, or building a broad community that collaborates on at an industry level? Your answers to these types of questions will guide your choice of processes and tools. Again, a few straightforward questions can help steer your process.
- How and where will you find sources?
- How will you determine what to use and what to ignore?
- Do you plan to analyze and contextualize the sources?
- Is curation moderated? Is there an approval process for what gets posted?
- Is there a process or cadence for how often you’ll curate, or how you’ll publish what you curate?
Whatever process an organization chooses, according to Anderson, it all boils down to four basic steps: 1) locate and gather, 2) evaluate and select, 3) analyze and contextualize, and 4) organize and publish. Sounds simple, right? But curation can get complicated quickly. Organizations that need advice on how to launch—or formalize—a curation approach, should check out Ready, Set, Curate. Using case studies and relevant examples, six curation experts (in addition to Betts and Anderson) share tips and best practices for creating a curation strategy and collecting content that is relevant to your learning communities.
“Organizations that practice high-quality curation will find themselves able to do more with less, create value from their knowledge, and find expertise within their organizations,” conclude Anderson and Betts.