Monday, October 30, 2017

Curation - What's in a name?

Rachel Burnham writes: I have been thinking a lot about curation over the last few months.  This has been partly because I have been reviewing my own personal curation practice, partly because I have been engaged in some collaborative learning around this, with my regular learning partner, Mike Shaw (@MikeShawLD), and partly because of a line of enquiry started by Martin Couzins, which has got me thinking.   Martin asked ‘What is the state of curation in learning?’ in blog post in August. 

Curation is one of those terms that seems to be used in different ways by different people.   As Martin mentions in his piece, curation in learning was all the talk of the conference circuit about four or five years ago, but is less mentioned now. But it has seeped into L&D conversation and I hear it used all over the place.   Sometimes, I get why this term is being used for example in the broader context of ‘resources rather than context’, or when contrasting ‘curation and creation’ in the design of L&D materials, or in Jonathan Marshall’s excellent blog ‘Getting to grips with MOOCs’, but increasingly I feel rather confused about why this term is being used.  It is a bit like what’s happened with the term ‘agile’ in the context of learning and development, where it went from being used in a very specific way to be stretched to encompass a whole range of meanings and situations – in my view unhelpfully.  I think the same is happening with curation. 

So, I notice individuals talking about curating articles, videos, infographics etc in the context of what they share via social media.   Or I hear someone referring to curating a collection of music.  Or recently, I read an otherwise excellent article which referred to L&Ders as ‘helping to curate change’ – I really have no idea what this means! 

I think one of the reasons for this confusion over the term is that ‘curation’ as a term and as a practice has migrated from museums and art galleries over into other fields.  So we have ‘cherry picked’ some aspects of curation from these fields and the rest is emerging practice, which is being interpreted and developed by different people in different ways. 
Another factor is that L&D is only one of the fields that has adopted the use of this term.   Much of what is written about ‘content curation’ or ‘digital curation’ is actually written from a marketing perspective, which is rather different to how we might want to use curation in the context of learning.  There is of course much to learn about curation from its use in marketing, but it is worth highlighting that it is different and so there may be a different emphasis in purpose or in practice. 
In a recent sessionby Stephen Walsh, from Anders Pink at Learning Live 2017, the following definition of curation was offered from Rohit Bhargava ‘A content curator is someone who continually finds, groups and organizes and shares the best and most relevant content on a specific issue online.  The most important component of this job is the word continually.’ Most of this definition fits with my understanding of curation for learning, but I don’t place the same emphasis on ‘continually’ nor do I think that it curation has to be around a specific issue – for me some of the most effective curation is done by people who bring together diverse issues and who link and relate topics to bring deeper or fresh understandings to light.   This definition seems to me to relate more to a content curation role in the context of marketing – and that is what Rohit Bhargava’s background is.  

The identification, careful selection and sharing of individual pieces however relevant, interesting and enlightening those pieces are, is also not curation in my view.   I think curation involves bringing together pieces, that build on one another, or perhaps with different perspectives.   This could be done over time in the pattern of materials shared, but I think it is more effective and valuable, when the curator in some way brings together the resources and presents them in a single, more easily accessible place.   This could take many different forms: a Storify of diverse materials produced through the backchannel of a conference (Ian Pettigrew @KingfisherCoach is an exemplar of this aspect of curation); through materials linked in a blog; through materials stored on an accessible platform; or through resources curated to form a learning programme, perhaps held in a VLE.    Even this on its own is not curation, but aggregation – grouping materials together – curation also involves sense-making and sharing this through some narration, editorializing, labelling & sequencing to put the disparate resources into context and to highlight the relevance for the intended users.  

Sketchnote of 'Content Creation: Your New Learning SuperPower' session by Ben Betts

So curating for learning involves - searching out materials, selecting the most relevant, grouping them, making sense of them, narration and sharing.  This can be summed up through Harold Jarche’s ‘Seek, Sense and Share’ model.

One aspect of curation in the context of museums and art galleries, that we in L&D often overlook, is the role of curators in caring for and maintaining the artifacts and works of art in their care.   As we know most museums and art galleries have far more objects in their care, than they have room to display.  So as well as the work of selecting, creating and putting on displays, another aspect of the role of a curator is safely storing all the material not currently in use, ensuring that it can be found when needed for research or display and making sure it is kept in good condition.   A recent article by Helen Blunden on the issue of ‘link-rot’ brought home to me the parallels with this latter aspect of the museum curator’s role.

This is what I think curation for learning is:
‘It involves searching out and selecting credible, relevant content to aid either your own or other’s learning or performance needs.   It involves explaining the thinking behind your choices and putting it into context for your intended recipients.  It involves making your selections available in an easily accessible format and storing material in a safe and searchable way. Relevance of materials includes content, level, type of resource, diversity of viewpoints, accuracy and currency.’

I would be very interested in hearing your views on this.  What does ‘curation for learning’ mean to you?

I plan to return to this topic in future posts to share my experiences of reviewing my personal curation practice and some reflections on my experiences of designing learning programmes using curation. 

Rachel Burnham

30 October 2017

Burnham L & D Consultancy helps L&D professionals update and refresh their skills.  I am particularly interested in blended learning, the use of digital skills for learning, evaluation and anything that improves the impact of learning on performance. 

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