In his bestseller on forecasting, The Signal and the Noise author Nate Silver likened our post-Internet information explosion to the events and epochs following the introduction of Gutenberg’s printing press. Besides democratizing literacy and triggering centuries of holy wars, the printing press enabled the same runaway proliferation of information we face today.

Then, as now, Silver writes, “The amount of information was increasing much more rapidly than our understanding of what to do with it, or our ability to differentiate the useful information from the mistruths.” Sound familiar?

How does this relate to training? If we design solutions and create the content ourselves, we control both quality and quantity, right? Increasingly—not so much. More and more, sources for all manner of content are available for distillation and mash-up. As instructional designers and content developers, it’s no longer enough to just be a great writer to create great training … it requires a bit of mad science to concoct the right learning solution.

Today’s students have a million ways to seek knowledge outside the confines of your training, from the internet to their digitally connected peers. This unchecked access to content is both blessing and curse. Your learners are drowning in the same ocean of information you are, leaving them distractible, unproductive, and vulnerable to misinformation.

Enter content curation, an oft-prescribed solution for this malady. And rightly so—being able to gather and filter content is becoming as important an ID skill as creating it.

Tips for content curation

Ironically, content curation itself is a perennially trending topic with many meta-levels: Plenty of curators share valuable best practices, and there’s no shortage of tools. But for now, let’s focus on content curation tips for training professionals, and some pitfalls to avoid:

Diversify: Get beyond the single-learning-event model. Instead of predictable, templated eLearning courses, gather video demos, create practice activities, recommend articles for further learning, and attach spec sheets for performance support later.

Share the sharing. Students are curious and want to consult with their peers; encourage information exchange through wikis, commenting features, and chat functions. Moderate if necessary or have an SME do it.

Remember quality control. You may not create all the content for the learners, but hold onto your standards. Avoid presenting information that’s amateurish, low in production value, or akin to shovelware.

Be cohesive. Even when curating top-notch content, a lurking pitfall is the patchwork learning solution. For example, be mindful of your client’s style guide and make sure none of your chosen materials violates those standards. Design the training’s scaffolding (such as navigation and graphics) to give learners a consistent experience, even with a variety of content types.

Be authentic. Curation works best when readers see the curator as a credible proxy for their own tastes and preferences. Engage learners with user-centered design, and user-test to get insights into their behavior.

Explore the Experience API. Want to know what learners are reading outside your course? Look into Experience API (xAPI). If you haven’t yet investigated the possibilities of this new specification, start here. By capturing a learning record store of your learners’ activities, xAPI provides insight about what content learners find useful, which could shape your curation efforts.

Does letting go of content creation worry you? Relax.

These tips all apply to good training design, curated or not. But if the idea of letting go of content creation makes you insecure about your ID role, breathe deep and realize:

  • You’re already doing this. Curating content is similar to the task of processing a large amount of source materials—you sift through and filter out the info that best supports the learning objective(s), so learners don’t have to. When you assemble the ingredients of your solution, who says you have to create all of it?
  • Your learners are already doing this. Even if you create what you consider to be the only appropriate content, learners will likely find additional content elsewhere.
  • The more work you do, the less your learner has to. Just like anything else in training design, it’s our job to help learners find the gems and discard unreliable or distracting information, helping them focus on what’s critical.

Remember, it’s not just aggregating and collecting; it’s you thinking through the design of your courses to unearth the juiciest and most salient materials for your audience. No matter who creates it (you or your curated authors), you’re still supporting the learning activities that correspond to the learning objectives. Nothing new, right?

What are your experiences with content curation as a training designer? Share them below!