Curating Content: The Right Choice is Half the Battle
12. December 2018
Training staff in large organisations often question why they should develop learning content for employees themselves. This is a valid question – there is a lot of external training content available either free or under licence that is not only current, but also well-presented and researched.
When it comes to imparting knowledge on basic skills quickly and easily, curated content may seem a sensible alternative to more complex and expensive in-house production. However, it is important to be careful when selecting, compiling and recommending learning content, as it requires a certain level of practice and instinct.
Uwe Hofschröer, Digital Learning Consultant at IMC, reveals what the term "curating" means in our Q and A, and gives us a few suggestions on what organisations should keep in mind if they want to integrate the content curation principle into their continuing education strategy.
Hi Uwe! What exactly is curated content?
Uwe Hofschröer: It's very simple. Curated content in this context is all training content that an organisation does not produce itself, but selects and compiles from external sources. The formats are diverse and range from explanatory videos and information graphics freely available on the internet to articles that the company researches and then integrates and organises into different subject areas.
The published content is then evaluated – either by the person who posted it or by an employee who uses it and then gives feedback. The content is made available either by a central department within the organisation, or in a freer form by employees or departments who curate content for their specialist areas.
The platform on which the content is collected is usually a Learning Management System (LMS) or a comparable system.
What role does the process of curating currently play in companies?
UH: In the past, organisations have been responsible for the required training content themselves, i.e. they have created it (or had it created) and if necessary, purchased seminars or events from external sources.
It is increasingly difficult for training managers to produce quality content on the variety of topics they have to offer today completely in-house. The topics and content in many sectors like the insurance industry or the retail trade is changing rapidly and gaining in breadth and depth. For example, employees often need to be given training in concepts like design thinking and big data and there is a wide range of first-class content available on these topics online.
In recent years, digitisation and networking have led to an increase in the amount of content available on all conceivable topics. This has been accompanied by the emergence of niche topic providers who create specific content for unmet needs. More and more companies are seriously looking at the opportunities curated content offers to meet the rapidly changing needs of their employees as quickly as possible and in a targeted manner.
Conscientious pre-selection and quality control are essential in this context, since the aim of curating is not to use the first piece of content you find, but to find the best and most relevant information for the specific organisation, industry and employees. It’s particularly important that the content can be easily understood and used by employees.
To meet this requirement, those responsible for further training must know the needs of their employees very well. Quality and asking the right questions in advance are both an absolute must when curating.
Curated content clearly needs a quality check to prevent inaccurate content being shared and to ensure the tone is appropriate. Who is the best person to take on this task in an organisation?
UH: That depends on the quantity and nature of the curated content. Organisations may want to consider making content curator a role of its own if professionalism and good results are the goal.
A curator not only has the task of finding the right sources for the required content, they are also responsible for continuously evaluating the content, and integrating it meaningfully into the company's training offering by making it available via a technical platform. An individual cannot necessarily perform this task on his or her own or in addition to other tasks for a wide range of in-demand topics.
The larger and more specialised the amount of curated content, the more important it is to set up a decentralised system for support – one person can’t necessarily do it all. This means relying on the crowd factor of employees or recruiting specialist experts as co-curators. In such a system, the central L&D department would take on the role of initiator, supervisor and enabler. The L&D department can also check whether it might be a good idea for them to hire service providers for content curation.
What matters to an employee is whether the content helps them solve a problem - the source is usually only secondary, especially when a solution needs to be found quickly. Is there any argument against using good, freely available content by competitors in such a situation, and is this perhaps even advisable?
UH: Generally, there is no reason against it, since curated content often revolves around topics that do not affect the core business or processes of the organisation, but are rather of a general nature. Recurring topics include management topics, communication or basic technical knowledge. These are also the topics that are highly likely to be freely available.
It becomes more of an issue if specialist knowledge is to be acquired externally. This is the case, for example, if a specific technology or critical topics relevant to the organisation are to be taught in line with its approach (How do we evaluate market trends? What is our approach when it comes to the usability design of our products?)
In these situations, the organisation must decide on a case-by-case basis whether content is generally okay, or differs too much from its own strategy and message.
When curating content efficiently, are there a few basic ingredients that the curator should not forget, and could you tell us what they are?
UH: Yes, these ingredients do exist. The most important thing is that companies should take the user perspective and ask themselves: What content do users really need? Do we currently offer too much or too little content? Where do we have to provide more content, and where do we have to reduce the information available?
"A lot helps a lot" is usually not a good approach.
Even if content is already available, it’s important to arrange the curated content in such a way that it makes sense for the company and to draw a thread through the content in order to place it in a logical and comprehensible context for the employees.
Of course, the organisation also needs appropriate processes and tools to organise the ongoing curating process. A classic trap organisations often fall into is believing that it is all about a one-time update and research. The opposite is the case: curating is a continuous process of searching, documenting and checking, in which the challenge is above all to maintain an overview.
What added value can digital training solutions offer when curating content?
UH: The most obvious is that the curated content can be made available or assigned to employees via platforms such as an LMS. But that’s not the only advantage. For example, digital content processing solutions can be used to create interfaces to external sources or to bundle data on content for searches. They also help curators themselves, for example when collecting, commenting or evaluating content. There are now even solutions that are so advanced that they can be used to support automated content checking, content classification, or automatic display of connections to previously captured content.
Thank you very much for the interesting interview, Uwe!
Uwe Hofschröer, Digital Learning Consultant, IMC AG