Ben Betts examines the role of L&D professionals and argues that is more efficient to curate what already exists than create fresh content.
L&D is operating in a climate of rapid change. The demand is constantly put on us to be agile, to meet the shifting and expanding goals of the organisations we serve. At the same time, there is more pressure than ever to demonstrate impact. The results of our efforts need to be seen.
We carry on our shoulders the task of delivering an effective, optimised workforce who take the company forward; to growth, to increased revenue, to success.
The advent of e-learning generated great excitement in its early years as a new mode of learning, a potential way to solve some of these difficult problems. By making learning digital, we would also make it more accessible, far more measurable and, surely, more personalised.
Despite the perceived opportunity that e-learning presented, the results have been generally under-whelming. Organisations have not found the panacea to all their training woes, and study after study shows that employees cite online learning as their least preferred channel of training.
The fact is that e-learning didn’t fundamentally change our approach to how we teach. For many organisations, the learning management system (LMS) has just become another place to file content; to store the courses we are so set on creating, for as long as we can keep them online. Far from freeing us from the constraints of the classroom, online learning wedded us even more firmly to being deliverers of content.
Basing your learning strategy, digital or otherwise, on the creation and delivery of content, makes it tremendously difficult to serve your workforce in a timely, relevant and personalised manner. Creation is slow. It’s expensive. It requires an increasing level of expertise to make online learning content that looks and feels credible in a world of premium resources.
Many organisations are doing exactly this, spending their time, money and resources on creating content. But it’s impossible to create content that meets the exact needs of every individual and even more difficult to do so in a climate of constant change.
The good news is, it’s probably not necessary. There is widespread acknowledgement that adults learn through experience more so than didactic teaching. This has been brought to the forefront of the corporate world through buzzwords like ‘informal learning’, ‘blended learning’ and, of course, the 70:20:10 model.
The world is full of content. It is full of learning content. So, wouldn’t it be more efficient to procure and curate existing content, than to create it from scratch?
Enter the aggregators
As the barriers to providing services online have fallen, so we’ve seen an explosion of providers in every imaginable sector of e-commerce. You can book a holiday, get a credit card and order a takeaway without leaving the safety of your sofa. The only problem you face is one of choice.
There are so many holiday websites, credit cards, and takeaways out there, it becomes hard to know where to start. Enter the aggregators. The portals that gather together all of the competition to find you the best price, best deal, or best rated service of your choice. Aggregation is big business. In fact, there are now online aggregators of online aggregators, because one level of aggregation is apparently not enough – travel website Trivago, for example.
Online learning is no exception. There are now hundreds, if not thousands, of sources of learning content. Some, like Khan Academy, Pluralsight or LinkedIn Learning are specific learning resource banks. Others, like TED or YouTube, just happen to contain a wealth of educational content in among various other assets.
As learning professionals we’ve taken it upon ourselves to be the curators of this content; to take a range of sources and craft the perfect piece of learning content for our audience. I think we’re going too far and having all the fun.
The core of my thesis is this: be the aggregator of suitable resources and let your learners work out for themselves which content is appropriate, necessary and useful for their context. You can’t possibly hope to personalise things enough to make this right for every person. But people can make it right for themselves.
For when we move through the process of evaluating content, remixing it and sharing it with an audience, we end up learning a great deal about the subject matter at hand. Curation, thought of in this regard, is a fair proxy to the learning process itself. We gather new experiences, we integrate them with our existing thoughts and we articulate new opinions, based on the conclusions we make. We should be encouraging our learners to do the work for us, to become the curators of their own self-directed learning experiences.
Not many people realise that this is what learning really looks like. For years we’ve had it beaten into us that hard learning is the product of a lot of reading, followed by an exam of some sort.
That can make you great at passing exams, sure. But our modern workplaces don’t offer up many opportunities for exams, outside a few specific fields. Most of the work we do is novel, untested, a first.
There is no assessment for my job, save for the results my business returns. And you’ve no hope of designing a piece of learning that’s right for me and my circumstances. I’m an individual. I’ll tell you when I’m done learning; I don’t need to get to the final slide to have taken in a new experience.
If my opinion on this resonates with you at all, then I would urge you to do three things:
1. Review your activity honestly. What is taking up your time? Is it building stuff, creating content and courses? Is this where the majority of your spend is going? Wouldn’t it be more efficient to curate more effectively what already exists?
2. Examine whether your people know how they learn. Helping them understand this will empower them to take control of their own learning and will help them access the content and learning opportunities which meet their personal learning needs.
3. Deliver a more personalised learning experience by granting more autonomy. Allow your learners to pick and choose which resources they find useful. Don’t lock things down by time or silo, or by lobbing it at the end of an hour-long course. Small pieces of content, easily findable, will make for a thankful audience.
It is time for L&D to stop focusing on creating and delivering courses. It is time instead to focus on curating learning content and facilitating relevant engagement. That is what will allow L&D to thrive in demonstrable ways.