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Who are your content curators?

by Jeff Cobb

I reference the concept of “curation” a lot here on Mission to Learn as well as in other places I write and speak. So, I thought it would be good to say a bit more about what a good curator does, how to find curators, and how to be one.

First things first: What is a Curator?

The idea behind curators and content curation is that there is such a flood of new content pouring through the Internet pipes these days that being aware of all of it and sorting it out in meaningful ways is simply not possible. Curators are people or organizations that do the hard work of sifting through the content within a particular topic area or “meme” and pulling out the things that seem to make most sense. This effort involves significantly more than finding and regurgitating links, though. A good curator must be skilled at:

  • locating and evaluating valuable content
  • organizing and connecting content so that it is as accessible as possible
  • creating and re-purposing content when it adds to the underlying value
  • capitalizing on the Social Web to build connections and context
  • building trusted relationships with learners and other curators
  • design learning experiences (in a much broader sense than traditional approaches)

Bottom line: A curator is an individual or organization who excels at helping others make sense.

For the individual lifelong learner, I see (at least) two powerful opportunities here.

The first is to find great curators.

If you want to combat information overload, I see this as one of the surest ways – find people who are already doing a great job making sense of the areas you care about. Some basic ways you might find these people is by:

  • Paying attention to who provides the most interesting content for any newsletters or other content sources you access regularly. Does this person have a blog? Subscribe to it. (I recommend using a platform like Feedly.) A Twitter handle? Again, subscribe. (I recommend Hootsuite as a great tool for managing Twitter and other social media channels.)
  • Same as a above with speakers at any conferences you attend or books you read
  • Simply search on Google and Twitter on topics you care about the most. If you see blogs, videos, Tweets, etc. that capture your interest, subscribe/follow.

When you first start out, you may find that you end up subscribing to or following a lot of stuff. That’s okay – you can pare down and refine over time, until you get to the set of curated content that is most consistently valuable to you. (Unsubscribe and Unfollow are always options!)

One additional word of advice:  don’t just pick curators who seem to always be towing the same old line and writing about things you already know and believe in. Find ones that are willing to mix it up some, take some risks, and fight off homophily.

Do this all of this well and I can guarantee you will transform your learning efforts and open up new vistas.

The second is to be a curator.

If you really want to learn a body of knowledge or skills (or whatever other learning area you define), it is really hard to beat becoming a curator for that area. In a sense, this is what academics have always done. They focus in on a particular discipline and spend their lives researching, writing about, and (less and less) teaching it. The good curator does much the same, though typically in a less formal way and with no promise of tenure. (The only “job security” for a curator is in continually providing high value to the learning community.)

It’s not an exaggeration to say that people have reinvented their lives through this sort of effort. As just one example, I saw my colleague David Houle do this with his focus on becoming a futurist. (Notably, David is the son of Cy Houle, one of the pioneers of lifelong learning.)

Curation has become a core part of my own personal and professional learning. I give a brief overview of part of my approach to curation in my video Building Your Curation Toolbox: Feedly. I plan to create other videos in the future, but in the meantime, what about you? Who are your curators and/or what are you curating? Please comment and share.


P.S. – Many people have written about the concept of the “content curator” or “digital curator,” but I am pretty certain I first came across it in George Siemens thoughts on curatorial  teaching. Just want to give credit where credit is due.

See also: More on the Digital Curator


posted on March 2, 2010

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