By Chris Frederick Willis
In the June 21, 2011, edition of Learning Solutionsmagazine, Rick Wilson threw down the gauntlet and admonishes e-learning designers and developers, saying Learning Content Is Not Your Job Any More. Wilson states that until recently, “As learning professionals we fostered the belief that content prepared for learning environments stands apart from other content…and, we managed to get away with this concept about the significance of learning content because adult education bestowed a particular credence on the content’s worth [by labeling it a] ‘course.’”
However, in today’s world where rapid learning and multimedia development tools are inexpensive and readily available, and informal and social learning opportunities are being widely adopted, the notion that only a degreed instructional designer or learning technologist can develop effective online learning is quickly evaporating. In a cost/benefit analysis, rapid and informal user-generated learning content is becoming recognized as “good enough” to meet many corporate learning needs, and opportunities for developing large-scale, professional e-learning initiatives are diminishing. In an ironic twist, formal e-learning initiatives suddenly are facing the same rationalization and downsizing instructor-led training experienced in the early 2000s when Web-based training hit the scene and was predicted to replace traditional classroom learning within the decade.
Enter Content Curation
If the role of today’s e-learning professional is significantly less focused on developing new courses (content), then where exactly do we continue to provide value? As Wilson puts it, “Your biggest new role and responsibility is harnessing and cultivating the content inputs and their uses. You become the ‘content curator,’ choosing how content sources make inputs, how the inputs of content mix and move into some cohesive collection of knowledge assets.” In other words, we are tasked with providing the proper learning context (and filters)around all the informal assets our learners develop and publish. We are being called to actively participate in the next step in the evolution from the “sage on the stage” and beyond the “sage on the (online) page” to developing a new incarnation of interactive online learning that breaks through the traditional boundaries we’ve imposed on learning content.
Unlike aggregation (the automated gathering of links) or search, which relies on mathematical formulas, content curation calls on human editors to enhance the work of mechanical search by gathering, organizing, reviewing, and filtering content. “Curation comes up when search stops working,” says author and NYU Professor Clay Shirky, as quoted by the king of content curation, Stephen Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum detailed the concept of content curation and its role in the information age at a June 2011 Grand Rapids TedXevent. After seeing Rosenbaum’s presentation, it isn’t hard to make the leap to support Wilson’s premise that there is a role for human-powered information context and filtering in today’s learning organizations.
But it goes beyond getting the right content to the right people at the right time. As Shirky elaborates in the same post, “… it isn’t just about information seeking, it’s also about synchronizing a community.” Competent content curators—and the communities and portals they support—become sought out as trusted sources of information.
Content Curation in Corporate Learning
Imagine a time when we no longer push all learning content through an impersonal Learning Management System (LMS) to reluctant learners, but rather they actively come to a learning community we have built and nurtured, and pull exactly the learning they need at the time and place they need it. Content curation as it is playing out on the Internet is a first step in that direction, but that really isn’t a whole lot better than the learning portals we tried to implement in the late ’90s and beyond, which quickly degraded into unruly mass data dumps. As an example, check out the hyperlink “bag” I created at content curation site Bag the Web to house all the links referenced in this post. As a repository for a limited number of links around a specific topic, it works very well. However, a simple curation site falls short of providing context and workflow around all the assets required for a large, complex corporate curriculum.
Effective delivery of curated learning content will require new tools, strategies, and technologies that force us to think outside of the boundaries of the e-learning course and the corporate LMS and go far beyond the link-sharing tools used on the Web. We would do well to continue to look to the distance learning models used for years by institutions of higher education, and then apply powerful new content management, workflow, and collaborative tools to bring our new corporate learning vision to life.
Learning Strategies Using Content Curation
I will explore a few examples of content curation in action in my next article, Content Curation Strategies for Corporate Learning. In the meantime, in the Context vs. Content debate, Context is indeed King—at least as it pertains to e-learning. However, learning content—formal or otherwise—is your Kingdom. You, in your new role as Learning Content Curator, are charged with providing context over your content domain.
Chris Frederick Willis is CEO of Media 1, a consultancy specializing in integrating people, technology, and performance to drive Human Capital Improvement (HCI). Willis is passionate about melding the best practices of multiple disciplines and the power of SharePoint technology to support integrated learning and talent management—developing innovative solutions for onboarding, sales, and leadership. She has led dozens of corporate learning projects from conception to delivery, and speaks and writes about the power of social media and collaborative technology to shape the future of learning.