Wednesday, July 06, 2011

L&D as ‘curators’? Doesn't ring true...

Curator? Doesn’t chime

Something’s been puzzling me for some time – the use of the word ‘curator’ for learning bods. Curator, to my mind, suggests someone who oversees a dusty, old collection of curiosities to do with the past; not the exciting virtual, digital and social media world of the future. It doesn’t just doesn’t chime.

From what I gather, these L&D ‘curators’ see their role as selecting digital content. But do we learners need to be saved from ourselves, and the world of digital abundance, by professional L&D people as ‘curators’. They argue that we’re overwhelmed by information which leads to addiction, depression, inattention and loss of productivity. So, in steps the ‘curator’, who doesn’t suffer from these afflictions. He/she has his/her finger right on the pulse and can filter, select and summarise the good stuff on your behalf. It’s like having a super-efficient, digital butler.

L&D and curates’ eggs

Well that’s the theory. In practice, where’s the evidence that L&D professionals, especially trainers, are high on research skills, empirical evidence and solid theory?. You’re more likely to be fed a diet of curates’ eggs - old-fashioned, 50 year old theories, faddish trends, non-empirical, anecdotal evidence and bandwagons. Think learning styles, NLP, Maslow, Kirkpatrick……. If you need to know something do you think “I’ll ask the L&D department” or do you get on Google or seek out an expert?

Coach in disguise

So do you really need someone to regurgitate their choice topics for your digestion? Is this is just the old ‘mentor’ or ‘coach’ idea in disguise, desperately trying to find a cool role in the world of social media. Or is it the antithesis of social learning. I suspect it’s just good, old coaching by the back door. As I’ve said many times, “Get a life not a coach”.

Rather than get a cabinet of curiosities, get the real deal. The filters are already there – just learn a little about efficient searching, feeds, good web sites, reliable academic sources, informative blogs and network with people who deliver the goods. You don’t need an interloper to do this for you.


Dick Moore said...

Donald I totally agree about more effective use of search tools. The number of people that don't even know how to access the Google advanced search functionality still astonishes me. Looks see what you get.

I still think that there is a place for the teaching of search skills, search engines after all don't work we just don't know that. You can never be sure you have got the best resource or most appropriate and that's before we start talking about use of search terms.

The facile example of entering the search term china that turns up lots of links on the Place is ignorant of the fact that you are interested in tea sets. Semantic drift kicks in, a search for aids 20 years ago would turn up lots of stuff for paraplegics rather than documents on HIV.

Lastly there is a danger that much of what is being put up on the web is subject to rot. without the use of curators using DOI technolgy that uses URN's rather than URL's 50% of all links are broken after 3 years.

Is there a role for digital curators, I think so, should we mix them up with teaching, well only in the same way we have used librarians.

Always thought provoking ;)

Craig Taylor said...

Hi Dick,

I wondered where you got the figure of 50% of links being dead after 3 years from?

I'm not challenging it, it's just it would be nice to have in my back pocket for..... well a rainy day ;-)


Mark Berthelemy said...

My journey in the elearning space has been greatly helped by Stephen Downes' curation of research, news etc.

So don't dismiss the role, just because most L&D people can't do it well.

Donald Clark said...

Mark - I may be confused here, as I really don't get this 'curation' stuff. Stephen's an academic, speaker and blogger who uses fairly sophisticated aggregation for ideas, not a professional L&D bod. My beef is not with people who do the research and disseminate it with intelligent comment. They are to be found on the web, as I suggested.
This is very different from the L&D professional, within an organisation, who decides that you need to have your content curated. Curation in this sense is just a personalised filter.

Julie Wedgwood said...

Donald - I found your blog on this very thought provoking, thank you. I've been using content curation to engage the staff in two organisations with the social learning tools provided, and it has worked. We have done this by acting as the content curators for the content created by the staff on the social learning sites and also mixing in other learning content and linking it to organisational objectives and initiatives. It has worked. However, I take your point about whether it is a long term requirement for an L&D professional. I'm not sure, but the evidence at the moment is that it has helped me engage two organisations in moving from a reliance on formal learning to a better understanding of informal learning. As to the skills: we had to do a considerable amount of up-skilling of the L&D team's search and filter skills as well as those of the staff in general. So for the moment the model I created using curation is working but whether it will still be needed by these organisations in the future, I really can't say. What is has done though is re-connect the L&D team into the business with what's really going on and what's really being learned in the workplace. The fact that the content they curate is capturing the business knowledge for the business and making sure it is available to be shared as widely as possible and kept current has been seen as a distinct strategic advantage by both organisations. Happy to discuss this with you further. Julie.

Donald Clark said...

Interesting Julie. As I say, I'm confused 1) by the use of this rather old-school term 2) whether it's a real need. I can see, from your method of execution, that there's an intermediate stage, where L&D and employees need to be upskilled on searching etc. Food for thought - thanks.

jay said...

Ironically, I came upon your post on Working Smarter Daily which is curated by the Internet Time Alliance.

Our curation is limited to choosing the sources of information from which content is selected, your blog among them. By specifying blogs that cover different aspects of the field (e.g. design, OD, psychology, KM), Working Smarter Daily provides a one-stop shop for a diversity of issues.

Algorithms based on social signals, a weighted popularity contest if you will, choose which articles are headlined.

Working Smarter Daily stores all previous links, so I can see, for example, all of your posts this year or all of your posts that mention wikis.

I think the role of curator goes beyond sticking musty things in the curiosity cabinet. In creating Working Smarter Daily, we built a new sort of cabinet. People like you are offering up potential contents. Readers select what goes on the top shelves.

Donald Clark said...

Seems to be some confusion here - probably through a lack of clarity in my post. I make a distinction between those who have online reputations as bloggers and disseminators of information, such as Jay, Stephen et al. My puzzlement was twofold 1) the iodd word 'curator' seems to have all the wrong luggage and resonances 2) defined as a role for L&D professionals within organisations, often traditional trainers.

I never ever saw Jay Cross,Stephen Downes, harold Jarche, Charles Jennings, jane Hart, Clive Shepherd, Seb Scmoller, Roger Schank and dozens of other bloggers, writers, speakers, as 'curators'. All of the people I read and admire don't just 'curate' they create. This is the difference. I want original thinkers, not filters. Words like 'curator', 'edupunk' and 'bricolage' seem to introduce unnecessary jargon, when it's really a bunch of experts who do their best to create, debate, discuss and disseminate.

robclarke1 said...

I enjoyed all this, got me scarily thinking of kind digital learning police that would let us all know exactly what and how we could learn. Curation can work when provided by inspirational educators.

The problem arises when, as happened with 'facilitators', L&D managers see it as a short-cut, employing cheaper people that lack the depth of knowledge needed and skills to help learners learn - trying to get through on a 'budget'. I worry that overly cost-sensitive managers will see curation as another short-cut, where someone else does all the creating and then the curators turn up, without all the preparation needed and deliver poor learning experiences.

I think curation can work, it's got to work, but for it to get there we must invest in top-notch people to deliver it.

Donald Clark said...

Sounds right to me Rob. If dome well, could work, if done badly a disaster. Still not wholly convinced by name or role in L&D.

Lesley said...

Like you Donald, I have a problem with 'curators' of information/knowledge, maybe because as well as having spent a long time in the world of 'traditional' education, I have also seen how important that the ‘right’ knowledge and information is in the world of L& D in the private sector.

I think the definitions I have found of the word ‘curator’ sums it up…A ‘curator’ is somebody who is a ‘guardian of information’, the person who ‘protects information’, who decides ‘what information will be available’. In the academic world, with some exceptions the system determines that lecturers and librarians are those who control what knowledge/information should be made available to learners. By default the knowledge and information will be reiterated by learners in exams, tests etc. etc. so that they can jump through hoops and pass the tests. I have visions here of compliance training in L & D.

This does not sit easy with me. As if you follow that process through, you are restricting dissemination of information as you are not allowing people to make their own choices based on circumstances/situations. Neither are you giving learners the ability and skills to make choices on what information is relevant to them and allowing them the information or knowledge to then make appropriate and relevant decisions based on changing circumstances. The 'curators' , by default have restricted the choice and therefore defined the route.

I find it hard to see where that fits with the amount of information that is now easily accessible…and what gives ‘curators’ the right or authority to decide whether the information/knowledge is relevant and therefore whether or not it should be available? What information is available out there that they don’t know? After all, you don’t know what you don’t know. To me the question is how do the ‘curators’ know what is relevant to others and if they are the ‘guardians of knowledge’ what learning are they not allowing to happen simply by being ‘curators’?

Donald Clark said...

That about sums up my position. Having a single 'curator' seems odd, when there's lots of different aggregators on the web. Again, like you Lesley, I don't see the relevance of the 'command & control' term 'curator'. Rebecca Brooks was a curator of information, as was Andy Coulson. We need creators not curators.

Dick Moore said...

On Link Rot

Lots of studies on the amount of link rot that happens. The Jackob Nielsen piece in at the end of the 90's found 6% of the web broken and its got worse each year.

"Sic transit gloria telae" Yissefm Briderm Kumar and Tomkins shows how it has got much worse.

In 2003 Spillens estimagted that the half life of a web page was 4 years, and we know its got worse since that

Either we take this stuff seriously and start to think about DOI and other technology or we face creating a new dark age (to be melodramatic ;)

IK said...

The LMS has become a popular haunt for curators, so for me it is time to move out. There is a world out there. Sometimes, I do feel a little overwhelmed, it's like coming out into the sunshine after being stick inside through a week of dark skies and constant rain. The world of information is so exciting. Yes, links do break. That is why they need to be checked, and if broken alternatives found. It is an irony that many broken links are probably because of curation. Bigger, better data bases (that search poorly) and legacy sites abandoned. Educational institutions are amongst the worst culprits. Sometime information is lost, but I love the serendipitous approach to finding more. The temptation of curation is to stick with the safe and never change. I opened a new LMS shell at my university recently and saw that rather than the blank page that I was used to the powers that be had kindly inserted a template, that pre-formatted, chapter 1, chapter 2, etc. When IT moves in, it is time to move out. This semester I am starting a Social Media Marketing course, but in an open course-ware format, so it can be adapted, changed and evolved over time. I find amongst my colleagues a fear that knowledge will be lost. Surely there should be a greater fear that knowledge will never be gained.