Does Curation Really Work?

I just read Martin Couzin’s article on curation and this is a fascinating and important topic. It was interesting to find that in his survey 45% of respondents find curation important while most of the rest think its a personal project or something that sounds “interesting” but not important quite yet.

Let me start this article by stating that yes, of course, curation is incredibly important. Nobody wants to read news, articles, or view instructional content that is irrelevant, incorrect, or possibly misleading to our goals. This problem now plagues Facebook, Twitter, and really every social system we use, especially those we use to learn.

In the case of learning, I think there are quite a few challenging dimensions to curation, which make it even more difficult. And in the interest of opening up the discussion, I’d like to present this for people to consider and give us feedback.

  1. What is my job?  If we as L&D professionals know what a person’s job entails, we can hopefully curate content that is relevant, proven to be useful, and structurally needed to do work well. A sales person who puts bad data into Salesforce, for example, needs curated content to make him more effective. A production worker who is breaking things needs content to improve quality and safety. And these are topics which should be carefully “curated” based on job needs, job activity, and observed experience.
  2. What is my career goal?  We all want to do our job well now, but we also want to be promoted, move ahead, or change roles in the future. How do I curate learning that is “most appropriate” for the job I want to do next?  Can we assume everyone wants to move into management? Of course not. This is a second “dimension” to curation, and one we have to seriously develop using assessment, data about successful career paths, and our own organizational needs. Just because I’m a data scientist, do I want to learn more about algorithms? Or visualization? Or maybe how to get data out of our SAP system? These are tricky questions to answer.
  3. What is my credentialing goal? What credential, degree, or other form of attribution does the individual want to achieve? If I want to become a “certified specialist” and get promoted, the curation should clearly show me how to do this. We have both individual and organizational credentials to deal with – a simple “click here to view the senior specialist path” is a good curation option to provide, for example. Is that in your roadmap?
  4. What will AI and data tell us?  As I discuss in this article about the LXP market, we have lots of good ideas how to use machine learning to recommend content. But is it working? Does it reflect these topics above? Can it find me the “right expert” or the “right author” or the “right content” I am most likely to enjoy and use?  Is it simply a matter of recommending the most “liked content?” It’s much harder than it sounds.

As we built out the Bersin research library, for example, we found that certain articles and research reports were 10-20X more popular than others. We were excited to think that “aha if we look at these articles we can better curate our library.” But there wasn’t much of a pattern. Why?

It turned out the “most frequently read” material was those we promoted in our newsletters! They were “top of the list” and easiest to click, so they tended to get read a lot more. Over time people gravitated to the authors and topics they wanted the most, but it was dauntingly hard to find algorithms that do this well. In the end we settled on some fairly simple rules, and “curate” based on traffic, related topics, and click paths others have taken.

All I”m trying to say is that this problem is trickier than it looks, and we need lots of good ideas, discussion, and models to make curation the powerful tool we all know it can be.

I’m excited to be on the Board of LPI and look forward to comments, ideas, and feedback.

  1. Evy De Bruyckere 2 years ago


    I really like the article and it feels like a lot of organisations are struggling with curation.
    So, which analytical tools do you think that might be applicable to help with curating content in this way?


  2. Toni Borsattino 2 years ago

    If L&D professionals curate content useful for people’s jobs – the pace and complexity of people’s work and work environments means this is not scalable except for jobs where repetition, standardisation and compliance are key (mainly low graded jobs). The curation of content requires business ownership, not L&D ownership to address multiple stakeholder demands across functions and regions. Critical capability development for current & future roles requires a fundamental shift for most companies in terms of approach. Impact vs Effort matrix – clarifying the ambition levels of executive leadership to take ownership of dynamic approaches to people development and the change process involved. This includes the set up of business learning communities for key roles, functions to manage the ongoing curation of expert or user generated content. L&D has an important role to play as a facilitator of these learning communities, and can add business value by prioritizing OUTPUT (desired performance and behavior change) relevant to the curation of INPUT (content). This requires senior level expertise in people development practices (which is not industry specific). L&D functions however largely reflect junior hires without the exposure to consult effectively & glossy learning interfaces which lack depth. The focus on measuring learner activity and engagement on new digital learning platforms is still about input – not output. That requires a much more dynamic approach to performance management

  3. Martin Couzins 2 years ago

    Thanks for mentioning my article, Josh.

    Your concluding paragraph is important: “All I”m trying to say is that this problem is trickier than it looks, and we need lots of good ideas, discussion, and models to make curation the powerful tool we all know it can be.”

    It is a lot trickier than it looks and there are issues around the scalability of a curated approach to resources, as Toni points out.

    It is useful to consider curation as a personal/professional endeavour and an organisational endeavour. Done well, personal/professional curation will shape your learning design and strategy because you will start to unearth insights that are likely to challenge how things have been done historically – as well as confirm that you are doing things in the right way.

    How you curate and the tools you use are important. But the biggest challenge is changing habits and routines so that you have the time to do it. There are big pay-offs for doing this but you have to go through the discomfort of making a new habit for curation. You may also need to learn some new digital skills too in order to use curation tools effectively.

    A final thought on scaling curation in organisations. You will only ever do this if the infrastucture and culture supports and enables it.

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