How L&D is getting a handle on this organizational responsibility
Curation has been a buzzword in the Learning & Development (L&D) space for a few years now. With the proliferation of information, it’s getting harder and harder for employees to find valid, up-to-date, engaging content to meet their needs. Bersin by Deloitte data from its High-Impact Learning Organization study tells us that the biggest challenge employees face when they’re trying to learn isn’t the lack of content—it’s finding the right content.
Curation is the art/science of identifying the best information for the organization and providing context and order to it. If viewed traditionally, curation is a gigantic job. How can one department be responsible for viewing, judging, categorizing, contextualizing, and organizing all possible learning objectives for one role, let alone all the roles within a company?
The good news is that some L&D departments seem to be getting a handle on content curation. They appear to be doing it by abdicating some of the authority that most L&D departments claim. In fact, not only are they allowing others to participate in curation, but they are also enabling them. These organizations are thinking systemically about curation—not simply performing the tasks, but thinking through the environment, the systems, the processes, and the mindsets necessary to ensure that all have better information. To do this effectively, they are looking at four types of curation: traditional, self, machine, and social. Let’s talk about each one.
One of the biggest mistakes organizations can make is thinking all content is equally valued. This is not the case. Sometimes, situations call for good old-fashioned curation, where a knowledgeable human looks at content, decides its value, and then organizes it in a way most useful to others.
Traditional curation activities are typically most appropriate in two instances.
First, sensitive information. Regulated industries, especially, have a responsibility to ensure that employees have the best learning and information available when it comes to safety, handling of confidential or protected data, and other regulated focus areas. This means carefully selecting training activities and reference materials and ensuring that employees are aware of them.
Second, information that cuts across departmental boundaries. Some information, such as how leaders should behave, cultural norms, or specific company statistics should be clear. One voice should be used to share this information. Companies should decide what information is critical to success and what all employees need to be aligned on and carefully communicate that information throughout the organization.
One final thought on traditional curation. Most L&D organizations tend to own this task, which is fine; this task is not always well-suited to outsourcing or delegation and is often better managed within the L&D organization.. However, there may be topics in which others (SMEs, critical personnel, tenured employees) may have more in-depth expertise and knowledge. L&D organizations can save time and effort by locating these individuals and enlisting them in the curation efforts, with the help of processes to help ensure quality and consistency.
Employees have a way of deciding for themselves what and how they want to learn. As L&D professionals, we should be encouraging and enabling this mode of self-curation. This doesn’t always mean technology (although it can help). Sometimes it means working to change cultural norms—allowing time to study, providing employees with expertise directories, encouraging mentoring relationships, providing access to industry and business publications, and generally making it easier for employees to find what they want.
To enable self-curation, L&D departments should also look at the tagging and search functionality associated with key information portals, including the company website, shared drives, and the learning management system (LMS). Employees will be much more likely to search for courses and learning objects interesting to them if they are easy to locate and access.
Finally, L&D departments should understand the types of tools that employees are already using to consume information. Content aggregators, tagging applications, and portals can help employees to continually add to their lists of courses and/or knowledge.
Advances in technology make it both easier and more difficult to curate information. Because nearly everyone carries a supercomputer of sorts around in their pockets, employees have more access to information than ever before. Machine curation happens through algorithms programmed into existing systems, including LMSs, engagement portals, websites, and the like, to show employees things that may be of interest to them. Algorithms can help with self-curation in two ways: first, they can push content based on what employees have looked at before and second, they can draw from the pool of available content based on other criteria—employee level, role, geography, etc.
Ratings and rankings also fall within this category. Providing employees the ability to rate and rank information enables the good stuff to float to the top. This helps employees locate the most valid information. In addition, the patterns of ranking and rating data can be signals (good or bad) to the curation team.
The final type of curation is social curation. Knowing that vast bits of knowledge exist in the world, employees often look for ways to narrow their search. One of the ways they do this is through the use of other people. Just as a person might seek the advice of someone they trust when buying a car, he or she may also seek advice when looking for the most valid information or training.
Some of this is enabled through technology. Social networks allow users to follow thought leaders and subject-matter experts. These same technologies can help employees locate others that may provide insights into a topic or lead them to relevant information.
Social curation doesn’t just happen virtually, however. Employees may also use personal and professional activities and information sources, such as participation at conferences or membership in professional organizations, to guide their development.
L&D can encourage social curation by looking at how information is being shared and enabling it. Some of this may occur via technology (LMSs and other systems often have social components).
L&D can also encourage social curation through ensuring that information and insights are readily available and searchable. One organization we spoke with, with little or no budget, created a Wiki with great search capabilities that encouraged employees to both share and consume knowledge provided by each other.
All of these curation methods are helping organizations tailor content in ways that serve learners and, in the process, benefit the organization. As the High-Impact Learning Organization study also revealed, companies with High-Impact Learning Organizations outperform their peers, delivering profit growth three-times greater over the prior four years. The implication seems to be, if you can keep your employees current and skilled, you can evolve and perform better than your competitors1.
Dani Johnson will be diving more deeply into the topic of curation at an upcoming webinar, Curated not Created, on Wednesday, October 26, at 1:00 p.m. ET. Please join for a closer look at leading practices in curation and how they can help you create a culture of continuous learning.
1 The New Best-Practices of a High-Impact Learning Organization,” Josh Bersin, September 4, 2012.