Reflections on #lrnchat: Curation

Image use courtesy of lrnchat and Kevin Thorn (@LearnNuggets)

Each week that I am able to participate in #lrnchat discussion I post a summary of the discussion to my blog. I do this both for my personal development as well as sharing with the Learning and Development Profession at large. This summary is based on my own interpretations of the chat; others who participated may have differing opinions or interpretations of the discussion. I welcome those that do to add your ideas to the comments.

The topic of this week’s #lrnchat session was “Curation”.

I always find looking at the questions that are used to loosely guide the chat as a nice way to see the overall theme of the chat. Here are the discussion questions that were presented to the group:

Q1. Curation can be defined as organizing/maintaining a collection of artifacts; How do you define Curation in Learning?
Q2. What examples of curation have you seen? (Good or bad, doesn’t need to be learning related)
Q3. Where does (or would) curation take place within an organization?
Q4. What skills are required for curating?
Q5. What are some ways an org could use curation to enhance learning and performance?

Curation is a word that is rapidly growing more popular in conversations about workplace learning and performance.  It is often discussed in the context of a competency needing to be developed by trainers, and a role we will be expected to play in the future.  This week’s #lrnchat explored what curation is, and how it will impact the world of the learning professional.

There are many ways to define curation. One of the more common definitions is “The organizing and maintaining of a collection of artifacts.”  The chat started with discussion to set a baseline on exactly what curation is in respect to the world of learning.

There is no one way – at least not yet – to describe what curation is within the context of learning.  Here are a few of the definitions that were shared:

  • minutebio: Q1) In learning – FILTERING, then organizing and maintaining learning resources
  • write2tg: A1) It is not enough to collect and aggregate. A good curator needs to add a point of view.
  • reubentozman: Q1) curation is the intention of creating a story from a pool of aggregate resources…and it don’t matter if it’s for learning
  • hjarche: @lrnchat curation ain’t $hit without some additional work on your part, IMO (but I do have my opinions)
  • Dave_Ferguson: Of course, calling “stuff tossed in a digital junk drawer” curation is like calling what you write with a quill pen “Macbeth.”

I think curation is rapidly becoming a buzzword that is being diluted by mass usage in inappropriate context.  There are lots of servicesd branding themselves as curation tools, but they only scrape the surface of what curation really is.

In a recent post for ASTD, I described five different levels of curation: aggregation, filtering, elevation, mash-ups, and timelines. There are others, but those would likely be the most common.  Most discussions of curation stop at the most basic level: Aggregation.

Aggregation basically collects the data from one area and presents it someone else.  There’s very little decision making or value being added as part of the process, and therefore it stretches the definition of curation.

True curation needs some level of intent. It requires strategy and planning to use the data for a somewhat different purpose than may have been originally intended.  Examples could be: Telling a new story, elevating an important piece of information to a wider audience, or recognizing a theme in seemingly unrelated and isolated pieces of data. Curation needs to involve added value. Allowing it to be defined without that requirement completely strips the term of it’s relevance.

From the the chat moved on to examples of curation.  It was in part of the discussion that the lack of clarity regarding curation started to shine through.

One of the popular examples that came up early and often was the latest social media hit: Pinterest. And that’s part of the problem.  Pinterest isn’t an example of curation; it’s an example of a tool that can be used for curation.  There’s a big difference.

It would be as if I asked for an example of rock and roll music and you showed me an electric guitar. The guitar itself isn’t rock and roll, but the music generated by it could be.  It could also be something else, especially if you put it in the hands of someone that doesn’t know how to use it.

It’s the same with Pinterest. Pinterest could be an excellent tool for curation, if it’s being used effectively by someone for that purpose. Surf random Pinterest pages and you know what you’ll find? A whole lot of crap. That’s not curation.

However, an example of curation via Pinterest might be this board from Jeffrey Heil entitled “What does Learning Look Like?“.  This board creates a visual story of what learning may be through otherwise unrelated images.

Most of the examples shared during the chat followed this theme of being examples of tools that could help in curation, but not an example of curation itself. To think of an example, you need to go back to the definition: Where has curation added value?

One of the best examples I can think of is also an early example: Reader’s Digest.

Reader’s Digest allows submissions from anyone. They then review and vet the submissions, and publish only those that they select as best matching the quality and expectations of their readership.

That’s one of the things that is often lost in the curation equation. It’s not up to the curator to decide if their curating is valuable; it’s up to those that decide to follow the curations. Readers Digest is successful because it’s curation resonates with it’s audience.  It is a relationship that is based upon trust, as anyone that buys a Reader’s Digest iis expecting quality writing.

So where does curation take place within an organization?  There seemed to be universal agreement that everyone in an organization can be a curator.  In a world of ever-growing data, everyone needs to function as a personal curator to some degree.  However, I would argue that it doesn’t add tremendous value at an organizational level.  After all, if everyone is curating based on their own standards, what are the chances that it is linked to organizational strategy?  It’s true that everyone can be a curator, but without some level of strategy or elevation for organizational curating, the individual curations just become a new type of noise at an organizational level.

An organizational curator needs to understand the goals of the organization, and what resources and skills workers need to be successful in tasks impacting those goals. It’s with that understanding that a curator can elevate and curate stories that are aligned with individual and organizational goals.

From there the chat moved on to the skills that are needed for curating.  There are a number of skills involved, but Beth Kanter does a nice job of simplifying them into three simple words: Seek, Sense, and Share.

The seek part involves actively seeking out the information to be curated.  A large portion of this is a technical skill, as it requires the curator be able to aggregate and filter data to find what they are looking for.  In a world of ever-growing data, different skills are needed based on where the data is located. Essentially this step equates to being able to find the needle in the haystack, and much of that involves effective use of technology.

The next part – Sense – is arguably the most important. This is where the curator adds the value. Some of my favorite curators don’t just share information with me, they explain WHY they shared it.  In other cases they may even share a new lesson by relating different pieces of information.  JD_Dillon described this step well when he tweeted “Curation can add cultural meaning to organizational knowledge”.  This is also the stage where additional vetting takes place to fact-check and build links between resources.  Going back to the haystack analogy, this is where the curator takes all of the needles that were found, decides which are the most valued, and organizes them in a way that shares the story they are looking to tell. This is the part of curation that is most challenging, if at all possible, to automate via technology.

The last part – Share – is where the curation is publicized to the audience.  However, it’s more than just clicking a share or publish button and moving on.  Sharing also involves documentation standards. After all, curation is about leveraging existing content in new ways, so be sure to credit the original source.  Sharing is also an ongoing process that may invite interaction.  If people comment or start discussions related to curation, the curator has an obligation to engage and encourage those discussions.

So how can learning and performance professionals use curation in their work?  I think one of the best things about curation for learning is that it can help add recency to learning content. Often we refer to a static manual that has been in place for years as performance support.  Curation gives us the opportunity to allow resources to be much more dynamic, with different resources coming into and out of focus based on the relevance at the moment.

Curation also reduces our need to create resources.  Workers create their own resources, and they are often more effective than the ones created within the vacuum of instructional design.  Curation gives us the opportunity to elevate such resources to a wider audience, and credit those that created them.

Curation also allows Learning and performance professionals to align resources and messages with the goals of the organziation. Through curation, we can help build and support the vision and culture of an organization.

Until next time #lrnchat-ers!