Content curation for learning: beyond the basics

Posted by on 18 October 2017

We continue our focus on content curation, this time with Jeevan Joshi from LearnD. An avid curator of podcast content, Jeevan takes us through his pro tips for content curation and explains how well-curated content can help with retention of learning.

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Transcript

Robin:
Hi, it's Robin here - the host of the Learning While Working podcast and founder of Sprout Labs. In the last podcast I forgot to say, and regular listeners would have noticed, the change to the introduction. Business has evolved over time, and Sprout Labs is now focussed on digital learning platforms. I've also personally started a digital consulting business, called LearnD.

Today I'm talking with Jeevan Joshi, one of the other partners in LearnD, about content curation. This is a nice follow-on from the conversation previously with Stephen Walsh, where Stephen talked about content curation as streams of learning. The interview starts by talking about the importance of content curation at the moment.

One of my real concerns about content curation is that it's just content. Learning is a process; it's not just about reading. Jeevan has a really nice way of thinking about content curation in the learning process as being about knowledge and awareness, and possibly about the idea of using it for retention after an active learning event as well.

Also during the conversation, Jeevan talks about how he's actually curating business podcasts at the moment, and the type of commentary he's putting around that, and how that helps to shape the experience for the people who are engaging with his content.

The podcast finishes with some great advice from Jeevan about getting started with content curation.

Jeevan, thank you for joining me on the Learning While Working podcast.

Jeevan:
Always a pleasure, Robin. We've been talking to each other for such a long time so I'm looking forward to this conversation.

Robin:
Yes, it's really interesting. We do so much together but it's different to have a more formal conversation about some of the things we do. So Jeevan, you are a passionate advocate for content curation for the learning strategy. Why do you think it's such a powerful approach?

Jeevan:
Robin, I wouldn't necessarily relate myself as being passionate about content curation, I just think it's really practical. And it's such a method to essentially collect information so that you can learn more, so I think it's more about "let's get sensible, and let's do a lot more content curation than we are doing now as part of the learning mix." And essentially not try and reinvent the wheel by developing new courses, but just reusing information as much as we can. I think it's - behind that thinking really is it's more efficient. It's not reinventing the wheel, it also reduces the cost of delivering learning because you're using content that's been produced by somebody else, but I think it also needs to be done right otherwise if it is done without too much thought and without a proper framework it can be counter-productive in the way that it plays out.

Robin:
Yes, I actually had someone during a webinar just sat there and went, "Actually, most content curation approaches are just lists of links, they're boring, uninteresting, and actually really hard as an employee to engage with." When you mean, "Done right," what does that look like, Jeevan?

Jeevan:
So in terms of 'Done right,' you need to take a learner-centric view of what content learners would like to get, right? So as we know that it's got to be relevant to their job, or the projects they're working on, the skills that they require, but also it should be filtered out to the extent that you don't overwhelm with content that is too difficult to sift through. So you need it to be sifted by somebody or something that understands what is not really relevant but important for the learner at that point of time and that kind of personalisation aspect of learning. So that certainly is one. Secondly, is not revisiting the purpose of the content curation. So when I say that, you just said about content curation feed, I think it's very wise to revisit because it's very possible that the objectives of why the content was curated in the first place may have changed. So there kind of needs to be a living approach. Needs to be constantly revisited.

And I think lastly would be not involving things or people. I say things because there is this machine curation or curation done by computers and algorithms and then there is also the human factor, so these two factors I consider a part of any essential curation at this point in time. In another 10 years, the artificial intelligence algorithm machine learning may be more effective than humans to curate it better than humans, but at this point in time certainly the human curation point is required.

So it's a bit of both and sometimes we make the mistake of just relying on machine curation or algorithm curation and there's no real value-add, or the commentary that a human-add as to why that piece of content is valuable for someone. So, that human curation piece.

Robin:
Yes. I'm just about sick of people calling recommendation engines 'artificial intelligence' and 'machine learning'. They might use those techniques, but it's just a really basic odd thing. There's a lot in that, Jeevan, so essentially in some ways you're thinking about the content people need from that learner centred point of view which starts to build a framework for what people are doing and what they need for their jobs now and into the future. The commentary bit's really interesting.

Jeevan:
Yes, that's really valuable. I've been curating podcasts, I listen to a lot of podcasts so every week I bring out my own recommendation of five business podcasts for the week, so I kind of go through probably about 30 podcasts during the week and pick the five best ones, and those are the five that I found most valuable. And in recommending those five podcasts, I give my own commentary on why I found that podcast interesting, almost like I write an editorial on it, a short one, also give it a star rating. Finally, I also identify vital information like who will the podcast be relevant to and how much time is required but also supporting information about the podcast. So it's almost like I justify why I recommended that piece. And I only recommend five pieces per week. And even though I'd like to include more, the reality is that I'm forced to pick five. Which really requires a little bit of thinking as to the content that's there for the week plus what is topical plus what might be of interest to the learner so that there is a wider readership.

Robin:
Going through 30 podcasts a week Jeevan, is a pretty amazing feat in itself. I think I'm listening to about five at the most. Definitely not going through 30 so that's also that part of the role of a curator is to first of all process a lot of things as part of that choosing process.

Jeevan:
Yes, absolutely Robin. I think if you were to say it'd probably be 35 because I listen to the podcasts that I've selected another time, so I repeat listen to it. So that's about 35, and you can't escape it. You kind of need to listen to it thoroughly.

Robin:
Yes, actually the metaphor, so to acknowledge this actually comes from someone else not from me but in his organisation they are doing a lot of content curation and constantly looking for ways to get better engagement, and they found that the commentary was really important. And he had this nice metaphor that the commentary was like a sports commentator. And it's essentially what you've talked about, it's really nice. Because he had this idea that there should almost be someone calling the score, doing the ratings. Someone who's a little bit more laid back, gives it a little bit more of a longer description, and then someone that's talking about it from the point of view of the player which is actually the audience sitting with you. It's actually interesting to see the two frameworks almost align in different ways.

Jeevan:
And I think that's correct because the people who are reading your recommendations, some of them may have the time to go through the entire recommendation and the logic behind it, some of them might choose to just use my star rating and decide that the four star rating are the ones that they want to listen to. So I think it's kind of just giving different levels of information depending upon how much detail people want to go into.

Robin:
Let's just keep on exploring this as an example because the other nice thing about it is you're not building a library or a repository, you're actually building a flow, a bit like the last content curation podcast, I talked to Stephen Walsh about. But this is a very different, very personalised flow.

Jeevan:
Yes and I think that personalisation or the fact that - and this is pretty much the only thing that I've branded as Jeevan's podcast because I want to be identified with that podcast and I want people to know that I am personally responsible for all of those recommendations and if they turn out to be not as good, it's my responsibility right? And the second thing is that because I'm constantly aware that even though I listen to about 30 podcasts per week, there's lots more, and I can't cover all. So that's one; so it's a selection of the ones that I've identified are quality podcasts. And secondly I'm also very much have my own personal biases. I'm not perfect, so my own recommendations come from my personal values or my personal interests. So it's got to be taken with that in mind that it's very much a personal recommendation. I try to be objective as much as I can, but as you're all aware that no-one can be 100% objective.

Robin:
Yes, in a couple of content curation projects, people have talked about the fact that the actual curators are the people who are sometimes doing really deep learning in terms of having to sift through everything. Is that what you're finding with podcasts?

Jeevan:
Yes. So I guess it also depends on the type of podcast, right? So the podcasts that I listen to and I recommend usually are at least 15 minutes and can go up to one and a half hours, right? And I make it clear up front saying that for example if it's a one and a half hour podcast, you need to spend that much time but you'll be rewarded for your patience.

So certainly the part where my own personal preferences is to go into podcasts that deep-dive into whatever topic is being discussed by people who have spent a lot of time thinking about those topics. So what you get is kind of a double edge advantage: number one - is that you get all these insights distilled in a 30 minutes or one hour podcast, and by listening to that, the second advantage is that you also learn a lot. So we know that there are lots of articles on LinkedIn etc. Pretty superficial, the five best things of doing this and doing that. The reality is that life is much more complex, work is much more complex than that, and for those who really want to get deep inside. So you really need to spend some time doing a deep dive into those themes. So I do select those kind of podcasts.

Robin:
So this is also - you've got that sort of viewpoint that you're coming from. In an organisation, the content curator probably needs to come from a different type of viewpoint. What do you think about the role of a curator in an L&D team?

Jeevan:
Yes, so I think the first thing is I'm not 100% sure that L&D people are best suited for the role of content curators. I think somebody from the journalism profession might be better suited. So I do see the trend of L&D people or professionals becoming content curators, but I think there's another source for content curators, skills that can be integrated into the L&D team, right? So, that's point number one.

And apart from the fact that you require curation skills, which are very specific in terms of summarising and giving your insights, I think a knowledge of the subject helps a lot. So it helps in selecting the best pieces of content and then also making commentary on that, so I think you also require a level of knowledge about what you're commenting on. So I'd love to see subject matter experts involved in at least a selection and even a short commentary, even if helping the L&D person do that. Maybe a combination of L&D people who are essentially good at structuring the content into pieces that can be learnt easily plus a journalist who can editorialise, plus a subject matter expert who can select the best content but of course it's a pretty complex relationship of three people being involved, but I think that probably works best.

Robin:
Yes. Actually just reminding me, I've been doing a whole thread on what L&D can learn from marketing, but there's probably another thread that's really interesting about what L&D can learn from journalism. And journalism and information management and information processing has really changed in the last few years as well.

So, interesting thing Jeevan, with this, almost what you're talking about, and it's interesting we've ended up talking about journalism which is very much about content. It's about static content. L&D people possibly are okay at sequencing it but there's another layer to learning which is actually the process. The behavioural change bit. This is my bit of concern around content curation and I've actually seen in content curation projects as well where essentially the repository's been built, and then people need guidance about, "Well, what do we do with this?" What are your thoughts about this, is it just content or how is the learning process or the reflective process for employees work with the process.

Jeevan:
Look, that's a good question, and I probably should have mentioned up front. I don't think learning content curation is the solution for all sorts of learning. It is specifically effective in raising knowledge, awareness, insights into a particular topic. I think changes are probably best left to classroom workshops where you've got more time to do that. It's kind of a layered approach to where content curation can be used so I certainly think that it can be more in terms of providing the information to raise the awareness and knowledge on particular topic, which then can flow on to the other forms of learning, right? So I think it will be difficult to achieve behaviour change through content that's curated

Robin:
Yes, so this is a leadership development program that was based on a content curation approach purely would probably be a failure.

Jeevan:
Oh for sure. That's kind of got failure written all over it, so. And even the content curation bit that's hopefully a part of the whole blended learning solution. That also, especially for leadership needs to be designed very carefully. So I think based on business requirements. So I think content curation is just part of the tool set, it can be a very powerful and scalable part of the tool set but it's got appropriate use-cases and needs to be done with a lot of thought and design.

Robin:
Yes and I think this notion that it's about raising awareness of new ideas and knowledge as part of the first stage of behavioural change to spark an idea but also probably to sustain change as well is a really, really interesting one so someone might actually start to work in an area or work in a different behavioural pattern but then you use content to reconnect with the reasons why they need to make those changes.

Jeevan:
Oh look, absolutely. For reinforcement you kind of need proof that what you're doing is going the positive direction other people are doing it. So once you've gone through a workshop of behavioural change, you could embed and support that behavioural change by curating content that's relevant to that particular behavioural change. So certainly it can be used for that.

Robin:
Okay, so Jeevan, what are your really big gems of wisdom for an L&D team that's thinking about starting with content curation approaches?

Jeevan:
I think the first one is to really understand what content curation is. So a lot of people mistake content aggregation as content curation. But aggregation is just the first step of content curation. So once you aggregate the content by using keywords etc you then can apply some kind of logic and hopefully it's algorithms plus some human filtering to pick the best content from that which is relevant. And I'll come to the relevance a little later. Once you've done that then contextualise that piece of content that if picked up to how it relates to employees in your organisation or the current work situation they are in. And then you've got the fourth step which is share in the appropriate channels. So you need to almost identify a channel plan for what curated content goes through, what channels. Some channels are better suited than others, so you don't blast the curated content in all channels, you need to be specific, for example it could be an artist's feed or an update on the LMS etc, or a newsletter that comes out every month.

So that's number one. Number two is underselling the business needs, which will help you identify what pieces of content are valuable for the organisation and the employee. So that I think is the first step to do a fairly detailed analysis, and refresh that frequently so that you've got that filter for content curation extremely efficient.

And I guess thirdly is that merge the curated content into your knowledge management system so that you're curating and commenting and if somehow that could be available on some kind a knowledge management platform, whether it's the LMS or the intranet so that people can go back and look through that information, because let us be honest, in business and in learning for example, basic fundamentals don't change much, right? So, that would be still very, very relevant. And I think those are the three things I'd recommend people to do.

Robin:
Those are great gems of wisdom Jeevan, and lots of dense - and lots of great ideas there. Look, that may be a nice one to finish on actually, and thank you so much for joining me on the learning while working podcast.

Jeevan:
Thank you very much, Robin, always a pleasure to talk to you.


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