Curation as a Key L&D Skill

Like much of the workplace landscape, the learning and development (L&D) industry is transforming.  Businesses can no longer afford to wait months for training to be developed in-house, and may no longer have the in-house skills to effectively meet the needs of their workers.  This series will examine how the industry is changing and how L&D professionals can develop themselves to evolve along with the industry. First up: Curation.

Transformational change efforts require a plan that integrates people, process and technology, and this applies to L&D, as well. One of the key emerging skills for L&D professionals is the ability to move easily between content creation and content curation. What’s the difference? With creation, material is built from the ground up, using Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), clear organizing principles like the ADDIE project management model, and measureable learning objectives.  Weeks or months may be spent in writing technical specifications, developing storyboards, and managing the project to completion.  This is the ‘traditional’ instructional design space.  

In the meantime, the business is engaged in keeping up with or ahead of its competition, requiring frequent changes to product and marketing information – changes that must make it to sales and support teams quickly. A lengthy training development lifecycle just doesn’t cut it. You need a way to quickly respond to business needs, whether with new or existing material. Enter curation.

As noted on Whatis.com, curation is a field of endeavor involved with assembling, managing and presenting some type of collection. Curators of art galleries and museums, for example, research, select and acquire pieces for their institutions' collections and oversee interpretation, displays and exhibits. Note that curation is defined as ‘a field of endeavor’ – not a tool or software program.  It is a skill you can develop. That means those who can effectively assemble and manage learning content display certain competencies.  Luckily, many of those competencies are already displayed by good instructional designers: the ability to recognize quality content that supports a learning goal, to select or design the best graphics that correctly align to desired learning outcomes, and to integrate them appropriately to meet the needs of your audience.

An illustration of the content curation process, courtesy of bethkanter.org. 

An illustration of the content curation process, courtesy of bethkanter.org. 

To be a good content curator, you must be able to organize, annotate and present information in a coherent way for your audience. Start by determining a theme or topic and then organize content around it in the way your audience will want to access it in the workflow. For example, here’s a blog post that is organized around the theme of ‘perfect length’.  Notice the way the content is organized to help you absorb it, and provides research to support claims as well as additional information should you wish to learn more. How can you organize learning content around the way it is needed?

Here are some skills and knowledge to help get you on your way to becoming an expert learning curator:

Good research skills

Research is much more than running a Google search. You need to know where to look, and what keywords to use in searching, to be able to select appropriate content. A good vocabulary, a thesaurus and an industry glossary are useful tools here! Good research skills will help enhance your ability to distinguish worthwhile from questionable material -- there’s nothing that will destroy your credibility more quickly than worthless content.  Think of it as becoming your own SME, where you provide the commentary so that your audience understands the content. If this sounds a bit like writing a research paper, it is! (You knew that skill would come in handy again – wait, you didn’t? See the end of this article to find links to online sites that can help you develop your research skills.)

Organizational skills

Content curation uses a process; following the process can help you stay organized and effective. It keeps you from missing critical information and – probably more importantly – not adding material that isn’t. Take this a step further and think about where and when your audience actually needs the content most during their daily work life. Then you’ll be thinking holistically, using a performance support framework.   To be sure, there are tools you can use to help organize content: from applications like Scoop.It, or Evernote to fully-integrated programs for content management like Xyleme.  But tools are only a part of curation – how you use them is key.

Knowledge of the core business

What are the goals of the business? How can the L&D function (you) help the business succeed? Learn by spending time with your intended audience to observe work practices and figure out the barriers to effective performance. It’s possible that a simple job aid could solve a problem more effectively than a training class (even if the leaders think they need training). Knowing the business and its goals helps you to make educated decisions about what content would be most useful to the employees, and to make recommendations about training and performance support options that positively affect the bottom line. This will make you more relevant to the business and earn leaders’ respect.

A desire to share what you have found

Also known as ‘customer service for learning.’ Being able to think from the audience’s perspective, rather than your own, is critical to being an effective curator -- and a dynamite learning designer. It’s the Platinum Rule in practice (While the Golden Rule would have you treat others as you would have them treat you, the Platinum Rule asks that you treat others as they would like to be treated.)  Have you thought, “Hmm, this article would really be appreciated by my colleagues, I think I’ll share it?” Then you may have the makings of a great curator.

Great curators aren't born, they're developed. Excellence doesn't happen overnight, it takes time, practice and commitment. But you have your network of professionals to help. Leave a comment or question for further discussion. 

Further reading:

Thinking like a Performance Support expert: http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/949/ (L&D pros should read the entire series)

100 Tools for Learning: http://c4lpt.co.uk/top100tools/

Research tutorials:

http://www.kyvl.org/html/tutorial/research/

http://www.wikihow.com/Do-Research