Thursday, 14 April 2016

Curation Skills

This morning, I attended an excellent Learning & Skills Group Webinar, hosted by @donaldhtaylor and presented by @julianstodd,  writer, consultant, founder of Sea Salt Learning and holder of the prestigious Learning & Performance Institute Colin Corder Award for Services to Learning in 2016. The topic was "Scaffolded Social Learning in Action: creating spaces to learn".  As always on these webinars, the chat panel was alive with comment and questions throughout, and I had a short exchange with one of the participants about curation, which led me to drop him an email later. That email crystalised my thinking on the topic, and has inspired me to expand that thinking out into this blog. Your thoughts, comments, amplification and challenges are very welcome.

I started by 'Googling' for a definition of Curation. The first answer which popped up was from Wikipedia
A nice, neat definition. But not actually the answer to the question I posed. I did not ask about DIGITAL Curation. I asked for a definition of curation. Now, I have enough experience to know to dig deeper through Google results pages, but it got me reflecting on a couple of things:  How accurate is Wikipedia? And how many people would look beyond that first result to seek other definitions? Just because it's on the Internet, doesn't mean it's true or accurate!

And that's why I see curation skills as critical to any kind of collective and social learning, from both a facilitator/curator and a learner perspective. The social media and tech is readily available, so the collection and re-presentation of collateral is relatively straightforward, after a short familiarisation with the tool/s selected (e.g. Pocket, Pinterest, Storify, etc).

However, the reflection on and critical analysis of that content is vital, and in my experience, is where things tend to fall down. "GIGO" applies here (Garbage in, garbage out). Is the material accurate, up-to-date, relevant, verified - and by whom? Where's the evidence, the truth test? Does the curator him/herself have the relevant qualifications, skills, experience and/or credibility to provide reassurance of its validity for the stakeholders and learners for whom the material is being collated?

Equally, contextualisation and narrative around that content is important. If a self-directed learner is curating material for themselves, then they probably have their own context already, but learning facilitators and/or subject matter experts who are curating content for others need to provide this - and the recipients need to be confident that it has been 'quality assured' for relevance and accuracy.

In a collective and social learning context, here's an opportunity for participants not only to source content, but for that content to be critically reviewed and evaluated by the collective before being made available as a resource. And in so doing, everyone gets the chance to experience and develop their own critical analysis skills for the future.

Happy to discuss further or to offer any assistance if this would be of interest.  You can find my details on or About.Me, and some of my curation examples on and


  1. Great discussion starter here Niall and I know you've asked Julian for some feedback on this. I think your post raises another question as well - many organisations are guilty of not trusting people to have the ability to critically think and so terrified of deviation from the company line that they can manipulate this argument.

    It's true that it's easy in a time pressured environment to take the first answer that appears in the search. But one of the great advantages of the social age and access to information is that although granted, some of it may be utter nonsense, there is more room for critical analysis, scrutiny by those better versed in the type of rigour drummed into any of us who did a BSc (well, in my case, scraped through the statistics module ;-) ), sharing of alternative sources and stories. So it could be argued we end up being held to greater account because of this.

    One interesting phenomenon I have seen on social learning platforms however is that through ranking, likes and gamification of content sharing, you can get the issue of confusing quality with most popular or most volume! Often, more challenging but valuable assets get hidden away as the easiest or most common answers win out on top. So in this context, curation is not just about finding, organising and making available a scaffold to springboard learning. It's also retaining a wider view and making sure our scaffolds are in of themselves not narrowing the conversation.

    1. Hi Lisa, now that's what I call a blog comment! Thanks for taking the time. I love including 'seeking alternative data and challenging popular views' into the curation skills mix!