L&D Takes on the Role of Curation ‘Enablers’

For years, L&D professionals have known that they couldn’t create all the content they needed to serve their organizations. Their solution: Curate it. Now, especially in enterprise-level companies, they recognize that even curating content can outstrip the capabilities of a learning-focused team.

Meanwhile, advancing technology has made learning more important than ever. According to the RAND Corporation: “Although trends in job tenure suggest stable or rising tenure for the workforce in the past decade, workers may still experience a need to acquire new skills to perform the same job or to advance to another job with the same employer.”

That observation, in tandem with the improving economy and tightening labor market, has increased pressure on organizations to invest more in employee learning if they want to boost retention rates. Businesses seem to have gotten the message. According to market researcher Technavio, the market for business e-learning will grow at a compound annual growth rate of about 11 percent from 2016 to 2020.

The ever-growing need for learning materials has resulted in a staggering volume of online content: blogs, videos and wiki communities that provide detailed how-to guides while more structured online courses teach everything from coding to critical thinking.

That’s good news on the surface, but it forces Learning & Development managers to proceed cautiously. As they search for content to offer throughout their company, they must make sure they select information that’s engaging, effectively presented and, above all, accurate.

Making their job even more challenging is the fact that workplace skills are evolving at breakneck speeds. According to LinkedIn’s 2017 Workplace Learning Report, the average “skills shelf life” is just five years. So L&D professionals must develop comprehensive “learning experiences” — instead of simple one-off programs — that steer employees toward a path of continuous growth.

The Shift From Creator to Curator

Just 10 years ago, the most valuable L&D professionals were those who could create content. Regardless of the topic, learning took a traditional path in which point A led to point B, which in turn led to point C. Methodologies such as ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation) versus Agile (with a focus on “learning sprints”) dominated debates over the “right” way to create content.

Then, as technology use spread in both the business and consumer worlds, learning began involving a conglomeration of materials — a YouTube video here, a Coursera offering there, a smattering of industry-relevant articles thrown in for good measure. Today, we’re not as concerned with creating content as we are about curating it. One reason is that L&D leaders have come to understand that while curating content can be simpler and more cost-effective than creating and updating it, doing it well isn’t easy. Effective learning involves understanding how different snippets of information are best absorbed by different audiences, enabling learners to use tools they’re comfortable with and allowing the entire approach to be tailored to the needs of each individual worker.

Through all of this, assessing value is paramount. Sloppy curation — providing a steady stream of shallow or off-target information — can do more harm than good in a business world where people are already overwhelmed by content. It’s the curator’s job to make sure every tweet, every video, every article and every quiz is worth the time necessary to click and absorb its lesson. Today’s workers are more than frustrated by wasted time — they resent it.

A New Role for L&D: Enabling Curation

Given that mindset, it’s not surprising that in 2017 we’re hearing more about “decluttering” and books like Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up are hitting best-seller lists. Just as minimalism has taken hold in the design world, simplicity has become a watchword in the workplace. Employees want less friction: fewer meetings, streamlined methods of collaboration and achieving the coveted state of Inbox Zero.

In terms of learning, each worker wants to see only the resources that will provide them with the most help in developing their skills and doing their jobs. That makes a centralized approach to sifting through content an exercise in futility. The continuously evolving nature of e-learning and the ever-growing volume of available information make it all but impossible for learning teams to develop approaches that can satisfy the needs of all workers.

The solution lies in empowering the workforce to curate for itself. We’re talking about a bottom-up approach, where employees, internal thought leaders and influencers share materials with one another, resulting in less noise and the amplification of the most valuable messages.

“For many individuals, curated insights represent a ‘learning locker,’ allowing for both reflection and a demonstration of what they know,” wrote Allison Anderson and Ben Betts in their book Ready, Set, Curate: 8 Learning Experts Tell You How. “Allowing learners to contribute in these ways makes creating and maintaining a curated list of resources much more efficient.”

Fostering a Community of Curators

Of course, enabling organization-wide curation presents a number of challenges. A variety of technologies are available to help, but before you begin to explore them, think about the work involved in assembling a successful community of contributors.

First and foremost, you must be ready to demonstrate that each participant’s time spent on curating information will be valued. Managers must be educated on how and why their employees’ time spent on curating benefits the organization.

Curators who offer outstanding value should be recognized and rewarded.

Meanwhile, L&D professionals must devote time to being supplementary curators, organizing and supporting the community while continuously tweaking their approach to keep up with the latest trends and technologies — because as L&D evolves, so does the roles of its practitioners.

If technology and social media have changed the way people communicate and learn, L&D must look for ways to embrace, and exploit these new behaviors. Not only must they understand curation, they must be able to orchestrate curation, so that the entire community of their organization becomes a learning mechanism itself.

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