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Martin Couzins is the editor of LearnPatch, a curation platform for L&D professionals and an expert on content curation. In this article, Martin looks at how learning teams can develop curation as a part of an organisation-wide learning strategy

Content curation has been seen by L&D professionals as one of the most effective approaches to supporting organisations through the Covid-19 crisis. Why is that?
Because it is an approach to learning that enables L&D teams to quickly gather resources on relevant topics and share them when employees need them. Pre-lockdown this approach had been difficult to deliver for a whole host of reasons.

I define curation as, “Gathering, sense-making and sharing information for defined audience and need.”

And this is why curation has helped L&D teams reach employees more effectively during lockdown. The need has been very clear as employees have required help with working remotely, managing their wellbeing and staying up to date with company and government news on being furloughed and staying safe during the pandemic. L&D teams have used a mix of internal and external resources to support colleagues in all of these areas. They have put them together in playlists and topic collections and have communicated them in a timely fashion.

Content curation is possible and it works

This crisis has shown what’s possible in learning. It has shown that curation is possible and it works. But what works as a crisis response might not work as a sustainable strategy.

To make content curation an effective part of your L&D strategy, you need to consider the scope of using the approach.

A couple of years ago I ran some research looking at what curation looked like for L&D professionals. The results painted a confused picture. It meant different things to different people. This prompted me to outline three ways in which curation can be used in the organisation.

1. As an approach to learning design

The word curation comes from the Latin cura, to care. This is a useful starting point. Curators take care over the work they curate, how they present it and who they curate it for. Think about museum curators and the experiences they create for their audiences, for example.

Think about curation in the context of learning: curators take care throughout the learning design process, from understanding the performance issue and the audience to delivering resources in the most relevant, useful and timely manner. So before you start gathering resources, think about creating your ‘brief’ – the document that spells out what is needed, why and for whom. Be clear on what success looks like too.

At the heart of curation is an open and inquisitive mindset. Being clear on what needs to be achieved requires much questioning and a desire to really understand what needs fixing. Why is this important? Because if you aren’t clear on this, you’ll curate resources that are of little use to anyone. Curators start by understanding the performance problem. Remember, training may not be the solution.

More questioning and understanding of the problem and user requirements will help shape your thinking on what the final design should look like. I have produced a short guide to help with this, which you can access here.

The final execution of the design will include resources that you pull together in such a way that make sense to the user. This will include commentary, much like the explanations of paintings (or audio guides) you see in art exhibitions. It will also include devices to make it as easy as possible to access and use resources – for example, a reading time next to content and icons to show different media formats.

2. As an approach to personal knowledge management

Curation is also a useful approach to personal knowledge management. This is something Harold Jarche, a thought leader in L&D, has explored in depth over many years. At its heart is a simple process Jarche calls Seek, Sense and Share (I use a similar approach – Find, Filter, Share).

With so much content available to us, the process helps us seek out high quality information, make sense of it and share it with others – your network, peers, colleagues, customers and so on.

As with the approach to learning design, personal knowledge management requires an open mind and a desire to seek out high quality information. Seeking out information will require you to establish the provenance of what you consume before you share it. That means you might have to triangulate against other sources. This is important because it is so easy to share content that is low quality or possibly fake. Trusted sources of information are essential.

You will also need a purpose for curating content because it takes time and will require you to make time (and create new habits) to do it – more on that in a future article. Why are you curating information on a particular topic? Who is it worth sharing with? How would they like to receive the information? Why is it important to them? Your role as a content curator will help you build up your own knowledge and that of others. Your content can also act as a catalyst for building connections with others and starting conversations related to that topic. Be prepared for that to happen – curating information can be a two-way street.

3. As an approach to organisational knowledge management

Can personal content curation scale to benefit the entire organisation? Yes, but only if you stick to the principles above. Always have the end user and their needs in mind and deliver what they need in the right way and at the right time. Use data and feedback to continually tweak what you curate and establish a process to revisit resources to ensure they stay up to date.

The opportunity here is to develop curation skills within your organisation with a particular focus on subject experts. Every organisation is different, but a common approach to test out the process would be to start with a team. Start with your own team. Curate and share insights to help build knowledge and skills in your team. See how it works, what needs tweaking and keep adjusting until you have a process that works and provides value for the entire team.

Then use this insight to invite other teams to try the same approach. Be agnostic on the tools to be used. Focus on sharing resources in places where people can easily access them. And bear in mind that over time, you will create a repository of useful resources. Think about where that needs to be, how to brand it and how to make it very easy to access and use.

Putting content creation at the heart of learning strategy

You can see that putting curation at the heart of your learning strategy is more than simply gathering and sharing resources. What’s more, to really accelerate the adoption of this approach, you will need to develop the right mindset and tool set. This is something I discussed on the From Scratch podcast.

When asked the question: “Is curation a state of mind, a kind of attitude towards resources, or is it about the right tools that allow you to do stuff that you can’t do without those tools, or is it a combination of both those things?” I responded…

“It’s a combination of both so I talk about mindset and tool set. Mindset is really, really important because if you think about information in terms of information overload and the fact that you haven’t got enough time to find what you need online, then that kind of mindset frames finding information as something that’s basically an uphill struggle. The problem with that is there is more and more information coming online and that way of framing it is never going to help improve the situation. That mindset is really a hiding to nothing, it’s a bit of a dead end and down that dead end lies a lot of frustration and the fact that you won’t be able to really find what you need to just get on and get ahead.

So the flip side of that, the mindset that we’re looking at really is the one that answers the question, “How can I be good at filtering the web? What tools can I use,” and this is where the tool set comes in, “What do I need to use to really efficiently bring information to me so I can sort it out in a useful way?”

L&D need this mindset

For a curation strategy to fly the L&D team needs this mindset. There are two reasons why. Firstly, it means the L&D team will develop the skills it needs to become good at curating resources. And secondly, it will enable the L&D team to act as advocates and teachers for the rest of the organisation. L&D cannot service an entire organisation – especially a large one – with curated resources. It won’t have the resources.

Scaling content curation requires key people around the business to become curators. They may be subject experts, domain champions, managers or leaders. They probably won’t have the skills and mindset, which is why L&D will need to step in to enable and support colleagues.

Once you have considered all the above you are in a good position to consider technology. It may be that you can use the technology you already own to deliver a curated experience. As long as you are clear on the business and audience need then you can look to identify the best technology to support your content curation strategy.

Aggregation vs curation

At this point, it is worth noting the difference between aggregation and curation. A lot of vendors claim to provide an automated curated experience. This is usually a stream of topic and keyword driven content and resources driven by artificial intelligence. This is not curation, this is a stream of content aggregated by AI. And this is pretty much what Google provides, albeit in a more refined way.

Curation requires some human sense-making to connect the resources with the audience and to explain why a resource would be useful. This is about creating the signal amongst the noise. A subject matter expert is likely to be a far more credible source of resources than an aggregated topic feed.

A curated experience is likely to look like a playlist of a few resources with some explanatory text and reading/watching time. This information makes resources more relevant and accessible.

5 tips on building an effective content curation strategy

1. Understand your audience

Look at who your audience is and what work challenges they are trying to overcome. You maybe able to segment the audience which helps target the resources you curate.

2. Understand their information needs

find out what information employees find useful to do their work, where and whom do they get it from?

3. Understand how and when to share resources

Communication is key to engagement so make sure you send resources in the right way and at the right time of day (use data to help with this)

4. Analyse data to understand impact and what works

Be led by the audience’s response. What resources work and why? And what isn’t working. Adjust your approach to ensure your resources are relevant and effective.

5. Start small, then scale

The pandemic has been a great opportunity too try out a curated approach. But to elevate it to key part of your learning strategy you need to learn from this experience and look at how to scale your approach. An L&D team cannot do it alone.

Use a platform that supports your new ways of working and learning. The 5App Hub can help in supporting your L&D strategy, creating a learning culture and in aligning learning with the business needs and objectives.

Get in touch to find out more.