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More on the Digital Curator

I’m still in the midst of a lot of travel, so I had planned on following a path similar to my last posting on the Digital Curator, etc. and pointing to interesting things that other bloggers are doing. As it happens, though, that post and number of others out there are beginning to form into a nice “thought cloud” across the blogosphere that I would write about regardless of my travel schedule.

Over at The Bamboo Project, Michele Martin has woven together Steve Rubel, Tony Karrer, thoughts from some of my recent posts, and of course, her own great thinking to ask whether we should view Instructional Designers and Trainers as Digital Curators? As Michele puts it:

…it’s crystallizing for me how much of a need there is in the professional development and learning sphere for digital curation and re-purposing. It’s less and less about the content (which is increasingly becoming free) and more and more about having the skills to sift through the information and put it into digestible, technology-enabled nuggets that really work for people.

I agree, but at the same time, I wonder how concerned we should be that a lot of the free content out there (and for that matter, a lot of the paid content) is being created together by people with no formal instructional design training and/or experience and that self-appointed curators may or may not have the ability to weave together content effectively. Does it matter?

Well, elsewhere in the blogosphere a vibrant debate is under way about the role of instructional design and Who Gets to be Called an Instructional Designer. Karl Kapp, for one, believes We Need a Degree in Instructional Design.

I’ve argued before in Does ID Matter? that I feel there is an increasing perception that maybe it doesn’t—at least not to the non-instructional designers who are often making the decisions about whether, when, and how instructional content gets developed. A degree could potentially help that situation—and I do think it needs help—but I wonder if we don’t need to burst out of the traditional instructional design box altogether and describe a new role. (And while we’re at it, tear apart the old professional development box as well.)

I don’t know exactly what to call this new role. The “curator” analogy certainly helps, but I would hope for this curator to have the following qualities (in no particular order):

  • Highly refined skills for locating relevant content
  • A demonstrated ability to judge the quality of content and its suitability for meeting learning goals and objectives. (This implies a certain level of subject matter knowledge, but I am not sure it necessarily requires the curator to be an expert, as Rubel suggests.)
  • The ability to categorize, organize, and connect content in effective and meaningful ways
  • The ability to augment and re-purpose content or author original content, as needed, to draw connections and fill gaps
  • An understanding of the social Web and how communication and learning happen in and across networks, including factors like diversity and influence
  • An ability to build trust and relationships within a community of learning and help learners develop personal learning and knowledge management skills
  • Hands-on, practical knowledge of major technologies of the social Web and rapid authoring tools
  • An ability to do all of the above with an eye towards achieving the strategic goals of the organization, the network, the loose coalition, the individual learner, or whatever the appropriate beneficiary (ies) of the learning experience is
  • An ability to effectively evaluate learning experiences and demonstrate effectiveness or ineffectiveness

(That’s my “off the top of my head” list. What would you add or argue with?)

A lot of these qualities, I realize, fall within the realm of traditional instructional design, but quite a few—at least in my mind and in my experience—go beyond. More importantly, I think that the need for these qualities applies broadly across the social Web. It goes well beyond traditional “professional development” and even spills over into other disciplines entirely. A person possessing these qualities is someone I would hire not simply to create training and education experiences but rather to be a leader in coordinating and facilitating my organization’s learning interactions across the Web.

Perhaps this person should have a degree or some other set of credentials, but I suspect in many cases she won’t and it won’t matter. The proof will be in the pudding, as they say. Instructional designers could stamp their current roles with a degree, and maybe even stretch the walls of the professional development box a bit along the way. But I think the traditional instructional design role has the potential to evolve into whatever we ultimately call this version of the digital curator. And what a role that could be!

What do you think, is “curator” the right title for this role? Is this potentially an evolution of instructional design, or just something else entirely?

Jeff Cobb

Related Items and Updates from the Blogosphere

Conversation Agent also picks up on the digital curator concept in asking Do We Need Editors in New Media? (February 17, 2008)

About the Author Jeff Cobb

I am an avid lifelong learner who writes and speaks frequently on the critical role of learning in our fast-changing world.

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5 comments
Jeff Cobb says

Crow – Thanks for commenting. I’ve written in praise of librarians many times and in many places. They are a tremendous resource. But why would we confine this kind of activity to librarians? – Jeff

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Crow says

Just out of curiosity, have any of you people ever heard of librarians? Who better to locate, organize, summarize and share content while teaching others how to use it, find it and create it themselves? Librarians are experts at organizing information AND teaching/instructing/assisting others — why reinvent the wheel?.

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5 Strategic Learning Trends to Watch in 2010 - Catch the Train says

[…] niches. Even with the help of incredibly powerful tools like Google.  I first wrote about the Digital Curator nearly two years ago and it was hardly a new idea at the time. Its urgency as an issue has […]

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Jeff Cobb says

Michele- “I wonder if we shouldn’t basically be helping learners get better at instructional design for themselves?” I agree completely, though I suspect there will still be a need for people who are really good at understanding learning dynamics in a network and helping to “seed” productive learning environments. They may not facilitate in a traditional sense, but I think there is still room for some notion of exerting influence (though definitely not control) to help guide learners. Jeff

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Michele Martin says

Great continuation of the discussion, Jeff, and I’m impressed that you can do this from the road! 🙂

I think your list of skills is a good one and frankly you’re describing what I’m aspiring to as my ideal skill set and work. One discomfort I have with the whole “instructional design” issue is that ultimately I feel like my role in supporting professional development should be something more like “learning facilitator” as opposed to someone who’s “designing instruction.” That doesn’t feel very learner-centric to me.

In my ideal world we’re helping people to discover for themselves the structures and tools of learning that work best for them and facilitating their development as self-directed learners who could do many (if not most) of these things themselves.

It’s not that I don’t see a place for instructional design as much as I wonder if we shouldn’t basically be helping learners get better at instructional design for themselves? It’s reminding me of a conversation going on right now on the TRDEV list where Elliot Maisie has invited learners to re-design a training they’ve just been through as their way of evaluating the course. The question becomes is this doing away with the role of the instructional designer? Is this going to be another version of crowd-sourcing?

I’m not sure, but I know this is a very interesting discussion. Thanks for keeping it going!

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