Curation is a term that is rapidly growing in popularity and is directly impacting the world of workplace learning and performance. In a world where the amount of information available to workers doubles every 18 to 24 months, it is impossible to keep up with the seemingly endless supply of it.
In his 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.”
Curating the information available within an organization is a growing need, and one that learning and performance professionals need to be able to address. We need to be the people that organizations trust to help replace the endless noise with clarity.
The word curation has become a bit of a buzzword, and that always concerns me. The use of buzzwords tends to spread much faster than their associated definitions. This results in a large number of people using a word to describe something, with most of them defining it in separate, very different ways.
So let’s start with a common foundation for discussion.
What is curation?
When most people think about curators, they usually identify them with museums. Museum curators do not create content in the way traditional instructional designers do. A museum curator keeps abreast of trends, listens to what guests are discussing, and finds resources that resonate well with those areas. He or she scours the globe for artifacts related to the topic, and organizes the artifacts in such a way as to take guests on a journey as they experience the exhibit.
Curation is essential—for everyone
In recent years, the definition of curation has expanded, as more information shifts to a digital format. The sheer volume of digital information that is available makes it increasingly challenging to find the information you are interested in. Curation in a digital world isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.
But it’s not only the shift to digital information that has expanded the definition of curation. Social media sharing has enabled anyone to share anything with the world. You don’t need a master’s degree in museum studies to be a curator today; in many respects, all you need to be a curator is the ability to click the “Like” button on Facebook.
Facebook may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of curation, but consider this example: there are times when I just need a break from work, and I might just feel like reading something that makes me smile and or laugh. I could go out and search the internet for sources, but I don’t. Usually, I check out a specific friend’s Facebook wall. Why? Because he spends a LOT of time online reading funny things, the best of which he posts on his wall. In short, he curates the Internet for things I (and others) might find funny.
What changed the game?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that my friend who posts funny things on his Facebook wall is a curator by the same definition as a curator for the American Museum of National History. I am, however, saying they both curate.
Curation today is very much like photography. Years ago, if you wanted a quality photo, you hired a photographer. They had the equipment and the expertise to take photos that just were not possible with the cameras available to the average consumer 20 or 30 years ago.
Much like curation, the shift to digital technology changed the photography game. Today cameras (and camera phones) can take pictures of incredible quality, in some cases rivaling what a professional photographer might be able to produce.
Does that mean that there’s no need for a “professional” photographer or curator? Of course not. Their expertise and training has value, especially in specific high-value situations. But the reality is, just as tools exist today that enable the average individual to take a quality photo, tools exist today that enable an individual to curate information.
Technology has enabled anyone with an Internet connection to become a curator.
Curation in workplace learning and performance
In our world, we usually create the content for workers, and in most cases, this content takes a formal shape such as a workshop or an eLearning course. Research is increasingly demonstrating that only a small portion of organizational learning comes from these formal events. The vast majority of organizational learning happens as part of the work, from asking questions, and from actually sharing information between workers performing the work.
Learning and performance professionals need to discover where information is being shared in their organizations and tap into it. That networking resource is a gold mine for curation. The sharing taking place could be identifying new performance support needs, or it could be sharing new solutions.
If that sounds overwhelming, keep in mind it’s not about listening to every conversation. 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 than the quality of resources.
Of course, this is only one scenario in which you can use curation in workplace learning and performance. There are countless others. In order to understand why curation is important to learning and performance professionals, you need to look at the different types of curation and see how they fit into the work we do every day.
Different types of curation
Curation has many layers, from the simple to the complex, all of which are applicable to workplace learning and performance. Here are five layers, adapted from Rohit Barghava’s The 5 Models of Content Curation:
- Aggregation: The gathering and sharing of 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.
Curation as a competency
Curation is a growing need in organizations, and as such, a growing competency for those focused on worker performance. At the same time, the vision of what this competency looks like in practice is cloudy. How will what we do look different when we add curation to our skill sets? Here are a few examples:
- A world where anyone can create and share dramatically reduces our need to create content. Learning and performance professionals will increasingly function as content curators—to support performance by connecting workers with existing resources, both internally and externally.
- We will redefine the concept of a “course.” Currently, course content is constrained and controlled, usually behind an LMS login. Courses are becoming increasingly open, allowing learners and workers to find and reference their own resources. In this open format, learning professionals can help curate the shared resources, highlighting those that resonate best with organizational goals.
- Social media usage continues to rise as organizations begin to appreciate the benefits of a networked workforce. Learning and performance professionals need to be aware of communities that emerge, possibly even taking on roles as facilitators to support interactions. You can use technology to spot trends within the discussions, with learning and performance professionals elevating themes and trends across the entire organization.
Curation is an important skill to develop, especially in an environment in which more and more organizations shift towards self-directed learning for their workers. Now is the time for learning and performance professionals to develop this new skill set.
As it happens, we are fortunate, because there are seemingly countless tools that can curate digital content. These tools vary in many ways, including what data sources they can pull from, where they can share, and who has access to them, to name a few. However, most fall into a few key categories:
Dedicated curation tools
There are a growing number of online tools used almost exclusively for the purpose of curation. Individuals and organizations that want to share some level of expertise use these tools.
Examples: Scoop.it, Storify, Pearltrees.
Crowdsourced curation is, at a very basic level, a popularity contest. It tracks the interests of large groups, via interactions such as “Likes,” “+1s,” or re-tweets, and brings those items forward to a large audience. People often refer to this as “trending.”
Examples: Google, Zite, Delicious.
When you perform a Google search, check in somewhere on Facebook, or like a page on Facebook, some computer is tracking and cataloging that activity. Your tracked activity tells a great story about what your interests are, and companies are working on technology that can predict things that you would be interested in and present them to you. Chances are you’ve already seen this take place; have you ever noticed that the ads in Facebook or on Google seem to match what you’d be interested in? These are recommendations based on your activity.
Examples: Facebook, Google, Amazon.
People naturally learn from each other, and social media has removed the requirement of face-to-face meetings to connect with others. These expanded relationships have enabled the building of personal learning networks—selected groups of relationships that an individual counts on in the pursuit of ongoing learning. People often use these networks as a source of curation, in some cases even more than any other resource. As an example, I will often pose a question to my personal learning network before I search any other resource. I do this because I know and trust the recommendations these individuals make for me. Many tools can make leveraging these types of groups easier.
Examples: Twitter, Facebook, HootSuite.
Applying curation to your world
As you can see, there really isn’t a single comprehensive definition for what is (or is not) curation. However, a few truths about curation do apply to everyone.
- The amount of digital information that is available is staggering, and finding what you need online is increasingly challenging.
- Those that are able to find information and bring it to the audience that values it are creating tremendous value.
- The amount of data available, and the need to find someone to curate it, increases every day.
For learning and performance professionals, curation is a skill that fits into the growing shift towards bringing learning into the flow of the work people are doing. It reduces our need to develop every performance-support tool ourselves, which in turn reduces the turnaround time for delivering support to those that need it.
In short, curation should be a competency that all learning and performance professionals add to their tool belts.
In upcoming articles for Learning Solutions, I will look at some of the tools that provide the services and how you can use them. In addition, I’ll be discussing these topics during two sessions at the upcoming DevLearn conference:
Curation: Moving Beyond the Buzzword
Curation Tools and Applications for Learning