Content curation: A guide to content curation for learning and development (L&D)

A guide to content curation for learning and development (L&D)

Why is content curation important to the future of learning?

What are the different approaches to content curation and what are the best platforms and tools for you to achieve effective curation?

Where can you go wrong with content curation and why is the curation for learning different from other types of curation?

This guide provides you with answers to these questions. It is based on a “Content curation for learning” webinar. If you prefer to watch the recording (or want the slides) please fill out the form below.

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What is content curation for learning?

To start, here is a definition of this discipline.

It’s a process of selecting resources, designing learning experiences using those resources and then sharing the experiences.

There are key differences with this definition compared to others, one of them is building the actual learning experiences.

Curation is not new. When you hear of curation, you probably think of art and exhibition curators and museum curators, they have a long tradition of selecting, organising and presenting pieces for effective viewing. Now, a curator does much more. They build events around their curation and contribute to publications in addition to the presentation.

Sense, seek, share - a framework for personal knowledge management

You may be familiar with a content curation framework from Harold Jarche; Sense, seek, share. While it is a framework designed for knowledge management and powerful for personal knowledge management, it is worthwhile in the context of content curation for learning.

In learning, process is king. Learning is not remembering knowledge. Learning is a behaviour change. The process of practising, getting feedback and reflection is key to learning. To build lasting behaviour change you need to do more than provide access to blog posts and other resources. Of course, content, good content, is important, it will provide information but it won’t transform the way someone works.

At Sprout Labs we believe, there is too great a focus on content, particularly in digital learning. Too often discussion revolves around learning content and with not enough thought to the learning process.

What is exciting about content curation is moving away from focussing on content and thinking about the process. The content is already out there, enabling learning professionals to focus on designing learning processes.

A framework for learning design which supports content curation

Let’s look at a framework from Ron Oliver and Jen Harrington which they developed nearly 20 years ago in 2001. They were asked to do a review of flexible learning frameworks being produced in the vocational education sector at that time. A lot of money was being invested in large projects to develop resources, learning resources and content and they weren’t working. Teachers weren’t adopting them and learners hated them.

Oliver and Harrington discovered a lot of what was being produced was a resource, it wasn’t a learning experience. To be a learning experience there must be tasks for people to do and supports to help them do the tasks. Support being the interaction between people and interaction between facilitators and learners and peers. In the middle where all things converge there is assessment.

A content curation for learning example

Ron Oliver and Jan Herrington - Teaching and learning online, 2001

It’s a powerful way of thinking about the design of learning. It also maps nicely with the 70:20:10 model where 70 is tasks in the workplace, 20 is the support and 10 is the resource component. The problem is much of the content curation sits in the resources circle just getting information to people and not building the tasks and support around it.

Who is doing the learning? Content curation as a learning strategy

When looking at content curation it’s important to consider who is doing the learning. Working with clients on content curation projects we discovered the ones doing the actual learning are the curators. The educator working on a repository said, “I don’t think my knowledge has ever been so deep.” They were going through many resources everyday to figure out what everyone else needed to know and was learning as a result.

Content curation as a learning strategy is getting people to do the curation themselves, seeking and sensing and becoming strong self guided learners while doing it.

An example of content curation for learning

A good example is Stephen Downes, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) pioneer. Stephen works in the National Research Council of Canada, he is an academic writing about education and publishes a daily newsletter called OLDaily. He has his own platform where he reads and makes comments, the comments are then automatically shared with his mailing list of about 60,000 people. What he’s doing is not for them, it’s for himself. It’s his own personal learning experience.

By not just reading but also commenting on the resources, he is processing the information, he is thinking it through and having a deeper engagement with the resources . His process of seeking, sensing and sharing creates an audience as well.

Stephen is making sense of the deluge of information and sometimes that's a very basic level of what content curation can achieve. You can achieve a lot more by focusing more on the commentary, more on the learning experience rather than just the selection process. It has the power to be transformational.

Content curation and the future of Learning & Development

Content curation is important to the future of L&D, especially when quite often the content that your people need is already out there. It already exists on the Internet.

In the past, the learning focus was sharing how the business works, focussing on programs such as corporate inductions and and often learning programmes were the only way to access information.

Now we see more and more demands being made of L&D to help drive the future expertise of an organisation. Things like digital transformation, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation are usually expertise which is outside of an organisation and needs to be brought in. Often the best way to bring in this expertise is by content curation. This is explored more in Learning While Working podcast on Content curation: streams of learning.

Content curation for learning and self guided learners

For the future of learning at work we need our employees to be self-guided learners. Self-guided learners naturally lead change and prepare for the future.

Some of the principles self-guided learners do; they're able to self-assess and identify their learning needs; they're able to find resources. Content curation is perfect to help foster these behaviours. Later in this guide we talk more about content curation and self guided learners.

Self guided learners

Content curation is powerful in a learning experience because you can give someone a resource, build the rest of the learning experience around it and help guide the other steps. It helps create a culture of learning by working, continuous learning where learning is not separated from work.

The three types of content curation for learning

Repositories Streams of content Learning experiences
Static links to documents and websites and often organised around tags Regularly updates via email or on social network Can take in the other two approaches e.g. can be a learning campaign approach
Topic based portals Includes commentary about why the resource is important for organisations and employees. Includes learning tasks and supports
The shared resources then go into the repositories e.g. a series of blog posts are sent as email messages which can be accessed from the blog archive. Or past posts on a social network can be searched.  
  Are made more effective by being developed collaboratively Tasks can be social
Low impact on behaviour change Some impact - continuous streams of content. Helps to foster a culture of Learning While Working High impact on learner. Lowers the cost of course production

Repositories are static links to documents and websites often organised around tags. Sometimes they're a mixture of streams of content, content and repositories. Some platforms are more like automatic aggregators, picking up information from the internet and bringing them into other platforms. Curation is a personal experience, something one does rather than being an automated aggregation.

Streams of content are regular updates. They might be on a social network, might be daily or weekly and often include commentary about why a resource is important to an organisation. Journalistic in its approach. Sometimes streams of content can go into a repository after they have been released. If you're using something like a blogging platform for building streams of content which go into your archives and then become searchable, it becomes a repository.

Last but not least are learning experiences. This is where the other two approaches merge. Learning experiences can be static repositories or they can be streams. They can be campaigns over time. The difference is, learning experiences don't just include commentary, they include learning tasks, things for people to do and have support around them. Tasks can be social as well.

Of these three, repositories have a low impact on behaviour change. Streams of content have more impact and they will help foster a culture of learning by constantly having new information coming in. You get the highest impact by using learning experiences. The learning experience approach also means you can build new course material by using existing resources and building the learning and support around them, this also lowers the cost of your course production.

Quite a few Sprout Labs clients have content libraries and one of the best ways of getting more value from your content libraries is using the content curation approach. If this is why you’re interested in content curation, the approaches you’ll find most valuable are streams of content or using your existing content library to build learning experiences

Let’s go into each of the content curation types……….

Content curation for learning - repositories

Seek Sense Share
Need ‘Sources’

Content libraries
RSS feeds
Social bookmarking system - diigo

YouTube/TED Talks

Sometimes - writing commentary
What is new

Often a lack of sharing and promotion is the reason this strategy fails

People need to see something 3 times to act
Email inBox
Organisation focused

Content management system - Wordpress

Repositories for content curation for learning - seeking

The seeking process is very similar with all three types so we will explore the seeking process in more detail here.

Seeking means you need sources; you need information flowing in.

One of the best tools for seeking are RSS Feeds. This is where you have a content source, a web feed allowing users and applications to receive regular updates from a website or blog of their choice. This creates an RSS Feed, which is the content in a specific format but without the visual design which goes into an RSS Feed reader. An example of an RSS Feed reader is Feedly.

Feedly has become one of the most popular RSS readers on the market. It becomes a single place where you have all your feeds coming from blogs and other sources in one spot. Important because you can quickly see all your sources in one spot rather than search everywhere. Feedly has some good team features, including the ability to pin and post things to a team board and build newsletters on a weekly basis based on what people put on a board. It’s great for group curating.

Repositories for content curation for learning - sensing

Content curators tag these sources for example in a platform like Glasshouse (one of Sprout Labs platforms), there’s a series of resources which have URLs, you write commentary around them and tag them, then you have a page which shows everything relevant to that particular page which all becomes searchable.

The sensing process in content curation means writing commentary, thinking through what is important about the content from an organisational point of view, from a learner's point of view and what would a learner’s actions be to implement this knowledge in the organisation? Jeevan Joshi talks more about this in our Learning While Working podcast on Content Curation beyond the basics.

How to tag content for learning

There's two different ways people work with tags. One, use an agreed set of tags or add tags when people feel they need them, this second approach can become chaotic. Having an agreed set of tags is a lot more useful. This method of tagging and organising your resources is what librarians do. It is organised and easier to search and retrieve.

Combining tags separated by a colon is useful. So rather than having separate tags for a year, type of event and what it is, you would have in this case 19: webinar: content curation as one tag. It means you can do a search on webinar and get all the tags coming through and it reduces the number of tags in the result.

Repositories for content curation for learning - platforms

Tools for building these repositories are things like Glasshouse.

Repositories for content curation for learning - sharing

One of the reasons a repository approach to content curation of learning quite often fails, is lack of promotion because they're static. People build them and leave them and they need constant marketing. Whereas, the streaming approach has resources constantly pushed out in a marketing campaign style which is far more effective.

Content curation for learning - streams

Seek Sense Share
Need ‘Sources’

Content libraries
RSS feeds
Writing commentary Email newsletter - email is still the most effective marketing medium

YouTube/TED Talks
  Social networks

Key digital real estate - Intranet homepage and LMS homepage
Your InBox
Blogging platforms

Often feeds into a repository

There are two streams of content styles. First there’s solo, a single person doing it and the other is a group of people. Solo seeking is very similar to a repository approach. Many solo content curations are often email newsletters sent out at regular times.

People do complain about their overwhelming amount of email and yes, we do have a lot of email in our workplace. The reality is, email is still the most effective marketing medium we have. You should also think about using your social networks, like Totara Engage for sharing content.

The process of curating streams of content is similar to journalism. A process of figuring out what is news worth, researching, commenting and summaries and then sharing. In journalism it is usually a fast process. This is explored more in our Learning While Working podcast on Content curation: what L&D can learn from journalism.

Content curation for learning - sharing

One of the most powerful aspects of the streaming approach is its a learning campaign which happens over time. You’re not building a new website you need to have your people access, you’re sending email messages to people to share the learning. One Sprout Labs client has the idea of three at three. Where every Wednesday at 3:00 pm they send a message to the whole organisation with three resources that should only take three minutes for people to engage with.

Content curation for learning - an example

One example of a solo content curator is Mike Taylor with his weekly Ask, Share, Learner newsletter. In the past, Mike was on a Learning While Working podcast and he was part of the first Learning While Working virtual conference In a ‘off mic conversation’ Mike was asked how he got it all done every week? Mike said, “I sit down over breakfast and go through my Feedly and the newsletter's just a summary of the best stuff I've come across in Feedly during the week.”

There's some really nice things that Mike does in the newsletter, such as talking about his experience of the learning technologies conference; the people he’s met and some of the things that went wrong, like losing his passport. These personal notes mean you get to know him and connect with him more.

He also shares this on Twitter. Another good thing about Mike's newsletters is the simple roundup links at the end where he doesn't add much commentary at all but has them organised around things like apps he is using or books he is reading.

Content curation for learning - collaborative streams of content

The other approach to streams of content is developed in a collaborative way and there are two styles of collaboration. One is a fixed (often small) group of people such as the L&D team or a group of subject matter experts. The other approach is where content curation is something the whole of the organisation is encouraged to do.

Another group-based approach is rotating who does the content curation. It could be a subject matter expert per week or per month. This means different people are experiencing being the self-guided person; seeking, sensing, and sharing. It’s a powerful thing to.

The challenge of content curating and social learning

The reality of social networks is, about 1% of people actively get involved, about 9% like or re-share and comment and about 90% just read. The risk with this approach is you end up with 1% of people defining your content and strategically the organisation can't direct it.

Content curation for learning - combine repository and streams of content

An example of combining the repository and streams of content is from a small tech startup. They had a repository of links for new people which were basic tutorials to do before they could do A, B, and C. As other new team members came in they would often rediscover the links already sitting in their repository and share them on the internal social network.

Content curation for learning - group bookmarking

A learning design model

A good example of a group style of sharing is one from Orion Health. Hamish Dewe from Orion Health did a podcast on Totara and xAPI and he talks about uses a small piece of script called the xAPI booklet which sits up on a browser. When you go to a page and bookmark it, you can add information to explain it and rate the experience. It then goes into someone's personal learning log. At Orion Health, these go into a repository that’s pulled out once a week and all the links from the team members are sent to the rest of the teams. It's a nice way to share, but it’s not an overwhelming flow of information all the time.

These approaches to collaboration are open, everyone can comment on resources which can build a culture of sharing and learning while working but it’s a challenge to get people engaged.

Content curation for learning - designing and building learning experiences

Seek  Sense  Share
Need ‘Sources’

Content libraries
RSS feeds
Designing learning tasks and support to activate the content.

This should include commentary
Key digital real-estate - Intranet homepage and LMS homepage

Has the same issue as the repository.
YouTube/TED Talks   Using campaign based approaches is a way around this.
  Need some learning design expertise.  
Your InBox


When you’re designing learning experiences the sensing stage is radically different It's about finding the right resources and building learning experiences involving tasks and support to activate the content into real behavioural change.

The difference between this approach and the other streams is it requires learning design expertise. You can't just throw a subject matter expert into doing the learning design.

There are some effective platforms to help support this approach. Sprout Labs platform, Glasshouse, also does this and Totara Learn has tools to build these types of learning experiences.

Content curation for learning - designing and building learning experiences - examples

A content curation for learning example

The first one to explore is TED-Ed an educational experience. Here you watch and reuse the material from the Ted library. After the watch experience there's digital learning and multiple-choice experiences around that. Then you can dig deeper to get more resources and explore more. Finally, there are guided and open discussions. This format of four things provides an excellent template to build your own learning experience.


The second example is from medical education, ThinkEmergency. Medical education is interesting because medical professionals have to deal with constant change. They must become very self-guided in their learning approach. Some learning strategies can help trigger self-guided learning. ThinkEmergency is organised around passports of skills..

The screenshot above is a passport about paediatrics patients. It’s self-assessment. It starts with prompting questions. Then it goes into resources or links back to the net organised by different medium, which might be about how much time someone has and what they can absorb at that moment. Then there are knowledge questions, where people can use these to practise their retention of what they learned from the resources or they could be used as questions between a registrar and supervisor. There's also a workplace assessment template.

There's the sense you are going through a learning experience where you're looking at resources and you are meant to be active in adding to this and implementing it in the workplace. As well as be assessed in the outcome section.

More on using content curation to help your people become self guided learners.

Below is a grid that maps out strategies to be used when designing learning experiences to foster self-guided learning skills in your organisation. At the beginning there are things like self-assessments, having discussions with managers, setting personal goals. Then moving into the practise like simulated practise of things that could be more digital like interactive stories or simulated tasks. It might be a series of multiple-choice questions or things that require more experience like job rotations or mirroring.

Mirroring is a strategy we use often when we're designing programmes where two people do the same task; an experienced person and a trainee and then compare the work they did for that task.

  Able to self-assess and identify learning needs Able to find resources and people to assist them Able to practise and trial new behaviours and skills and gain feedback on performance Able to articulate and reflect on what they have learned Able to evaluate and measure their own learning
10: Resource   The content you have curated      
10: Task The experience starts with a self-assessment
Set a personal learning goal
Case studies
Interactive stories
Simulated task
  End with a self-assessment
20: Support A pre-learning discussion with their managers
Peer assessment
    Learning logs
Social post
Coaching conversations
Completing the learning experience as group
Peer feedback on performance
Peer assessment
70: Tasks     New job tasks
Following along
Checklist of tasks to complete
Workplace audits

Tracking and reporting on content curation for learning.

Another important aspect of content curation for learning is tracking. Often when you’re working with a content curation approach your not working with a Learning Management System. If you use web tools like SharePoint or blogs or you lose your ability to track individuals because web tools are mostly working around good Google analytics for tracking. Google analytics is great for tracking trends, not individuals. Google's usage guidelines don't allow you to use analytics for tracking individuals.

If you want the ability to bring richer data into your learning systems and learning reporting systems, you need to be doing your content curation systems using a learning focus platform such as Glasshouse. These platforms are xAPI enabled enabled as they can track almost any activity and result in a far more detailed view of learner progress. It gives you a different level of richness.