ATD Blog

Curation: A Core Competency for Learning Professionals

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

In my first two posts for Learning Circuits, I explored how I use Twitter as a professional development tool, and last week we looked at Filtering: A Challenge and Responsibility for Learning Professionals.  This week we're going to explore filtering further, and explain how learning professionals will provide filtering services on an increasing basis.

There are two primary ways that filtering will impact learning professionals. The first impact is in helping workers understand the need and techniques for filtering.  For many, this need to filter is something they may not have considered before.  However, in an age of ever-increasing data, being able to focus on what's important and what isn't is a required skill.  

It's also something that needs to be learned.  Filtering doesn't just apply to Twitter, it applies everywhere. In a world of 300 television channels, countless websites, and Reply-To-All emails, being able to narrow your focus on what is valuable is critical. 

So the first impact of learning and performance professionals is to assist workers with understanding and applying filtering skills; the second impact is of greater importance, and will become a core competency in the near future.  That competency is curation.

What is curation?

Consider the most common example of curation: the museum curator. This person does not create content in the traditional sense. He or she listens to what is going on, and finds topics that resonate with museum guests.  He or she scours the globe for artifacts related to that topic, and organizes the artifacts in such a way that guests are taken on a learning journey as they experience the exhibit. 

Of course, museum curators are highly trained and educated in doing this. It is their specialty.  How does curation fit into the existing world of organizational learning and performance?

A large percentage of learning and skill building is done informally.  Estimates show that upwards of 90% of workplace learning takes place outside of formal programs. Most actual learning takes place informally on-the-job, through coaching, mentoring, experience, and other sharing. This learning doesn't go through the training department, and it isn't tracked by the organization's learning management system.


Capturing this type of learning has been a logistical impossibility (or at least very difficult) in the past, as it was taking place serendipitously, and without any sort of documentation.  Interactions like water-cooler conversations, over-the-cubicle requests for assistance, and on-the-job coaching provide the majority of performance support, but usually happens in a vacuum, shared only between the participants that are present.

In recent years, this social learning has expanded and exploded via online social networks. Networks like Twitter, facebook, or internal solutions like Yammer enable this social workplace learning to break through the constraints of face-to-face meetings. We can now share with counterparts across the globe almost as easily as we do across the room.  Better still, learning that once was limited to those present in a face-to-face interaction can now be shared with the world.

Learning and performance professionals need to discover where the information is being shared in their organizations, and tap into it.  That networking resource is a gold mine for learning curation. The sharing taking place could be identifying new performance support needs, or it could be sharing new solutions.

This all might sound overwhelming, making you think that you don't have the time to monitor every single learning experience that happens within your organization. That's not the expectation. What you're trying to do is identify the most common and valuable things that people share. Curation is less about the quantity of resources, and more about the quality of resources.

There are multiple layers to curation, each of which has benefits when applied to learning and performance:

         Aggregation: Gathering and sharing relevant content. It releases the individual worker from needing to seek out the content.

         Filtering: Instead of simply aggregating content, filtering shares only those resources that are most relevant and valuable.

         Elevation: Recognizing a larger trend in the sea of seemingly less important content.

         Mashups: Merging two or more unrelated pieces of content to form a new message.


         Timelines: Organizing random pieces of content in chronological order to show the evolution of an idea.

Thankfully, there are plenty of tools that can help us with these tasks.  However, there is still a human need in curation; a role that is built on a foundation of trust. 

When I follow a curator I do so because I feel that work the curator is doing is filtering on my behalf.  I may not feel the need to seek out content as much if there is someone that is already providing pre-filtered content relevant to my needs.

In the book Curation Nation, Steven Rosenbaum describes it this way: "Curation replaces noise with clarity. And it's the clarity of your choosing; it's the things that people you trust help you find."

That's the role learning and performance professionals are going to be playing more and more in the future.  With content growing at an exponential rate, our need to create will slowly diminish.  In its place will be the growing need to filter on behalf of workers; to curate the sea of content that is available and being shared and bring the most relevant and valuable to the forefront of worker attention.

In my final post of this series I will drill down deeper into the process, exploring what technology can (and can't) do to aid curation, and paint a picture of how I see curation fitting into the future of learning and performance.

Thanks for reading - see you next week.

David Kelly is the director of training at Carver Federal Savings Bank and Member of the ASTD National Advisors for Chapters. He is also the author of the blog Misadventures in Learning, where he discusses the future of the learning field and curates the backchannel of learning conferences.

About the Author

Director, Center for Learning at ACLD David has been an internal learning and performance consultant and training director for over 10 years.  He has been a leader in local ASTD chapters, serving as a local board member and national adviser. Dave is active in the learning community, and can often be seen speaking at industry conferences and events.  In 2011 the eLearning Council voted him one of the 10 most influential eLearning bloggers for his blog, Misadventures in Learning. He is also known for his curation efforts, especially related to conferences and events for learning and performance professionals. 

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Needed this. Thanks David. Looking forward to other entries.
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