The growth in digital information is staggering. As trusted content curators, learning professionals help learners cut through the noise to get the information they need.

Studies have shown that the amount of digital information available doubles every 18 to 24 months. As a result, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find the right information, and it's even more difficult to determine if the information you find is the best or most appropriate resource.

Businesses need employees to focus on what is critically important and to not get distracted by the endless noise of noncritical digital information. So how can learning professionals help employees sort through this avalanche of information?

Enter content curation, which "replaces noise with clarity. And it's the clarity of your choosing; it's the things that people you trust help you find," according to Steve Rosenbaum, author of Curation Nation.

What it is

Marketing expert Rohit Bhargava defines content curation as "the act of finding, grouping, organizing or sharing the best and most relevant content on a specific issue."

Learning professionals may read that and think, "That doesn't sound all that different from what we do today." You're right. The ultimate goal of a curator isn't that different from a learning professional's—to bring the content needed or desired by an audience to them without them needing to find it.

You are probably curating information today without even knowing it. If you use Facebook or Twitter to post or share something you think someone else may be interested in, you are curating content. More important, when you look at your Facebook feed, chances are there are certain people's posts that you will take a longer look at than others because you connect better with what they're sharing. It's that relationship—the trust that the reader has in the relevance of what the poster is sharing—that is at the heart of curation.

Why it works

Curation only recently has started to be applied to the learning and performance field, but it's something you've probably seen often without consciously thinking about it. When most people think of the word "curator," the image that likely comes to mind is a museum curator.

Museum curators are responsible for deciding which of the millions of artifacts ultimately appear in a museum, and how they get displayed. Museum curators, through their choices, shape a museum visitor's experience. The same can apply to information.

Guidelines

Curation isn't about creating new content, at least not in the way instructional designers are accustomed to creating it. Curation deals with content that already exists.

In her blog post "How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media," Beth Kanter breaks down curation to a three-step process (adapted from Harold Jarche's framework for personal knowledge management) that can easily be applied to a learning and development context.

Seek. Find information that is of value to workers. This involves aggregating the available content and filtering it based on a set of criteria. That sentence sounds somewhat mechanical because there are many technologies that can automate much of the search processes for you.

Sense. Make sense of the identified content and add value that shows how it applies to the work and work environment. This, in many ways, is the human component of curation. A computer can identify content that matches a search query, but it cannot verify that what it identifies matches the themes or intent of the curator. The sense-making part of the process enables curators to point out why they are sharing this piece of content, and the context that makes it relevant.

Share. Once content is identified and the curator has added context, the content can then be shared. Although selecting what format to use for the sharing may take some time, once selected, many tools also can automate much of this process.

There are different ways to apply curation to organizational learning, ranging from simplistic to complex. Bhargava identifies five models for using content curation in the context of marketing:

  • aggregation—curating the most relevant information
  • distillation—pulling out the most simple and important messages
  • elevation—curating by identifying a larger trend
  • mashups—unique, curated juxtapositions where content is merged to create a new point of view
  • chronology—brings together historical information to show an evolving understanding.

We easily can adapt aspects of this model to address learning and performance needs.

Consider a new-hire orientation, which involve multiple departments of an organization informing new workers of the policies, procedures, and processes in place for the department. It's almost always too much for new hires to take in, and in their first days and weeks of work, they spend a great deal of time searching for information that was discussed during orientation. Aggregating all information that may be relevant to a new hire into a single location could be an excellent resource for new employees.

Another way organizations are beginning to use curation as a learning tool is to share articles, documents, and blog posts related to a topic. The content itself is valuable, but it's the curator's distillation of the content by simplifying it down to easily digestible key points that make the sharing incredibly valuable as a learning tool. This allows workers to quickly gain critical information without needing to sift through large amounts of content on their own.

Results

Organizations that are using curation as part of their learning strategies are seeing many benefits related to learning and performance, including a better understanding of the industry they work in, a stronger organizational culture, and better contextual understanding of their work.

The training department always has been a trusted resource for information related to improving job performance. Curation is another tool to aid us toward that end, one that also matches a growing shift in learning that relies less on formal training approaches.