Unmasking the Hidden Costs of Curation for Learning

An Explanation of the Curation Gap


Anyone else remember when a Curator was either a rather cultured and mysterious figure who worked at the cold sterile museums you were forced to visit as part of a school field trip or perhaps, more vividly, an unmasked villain at the end of a Scooby Doo cartoon?

Now I attend curated music and film festivals, can have my meals and all layers of my wardrobe curated.  I can even order curated toys for the dog I don’t have specifically geared towards its breed and developmental stage.  More importantly (at least for us non-dog owners without unlimited income), as a learning professional, I now have almost unlimited access to a vast array of human, machine and socially curated learning content.

Content Curation, as defined by Training Industry.com, is “the process of sorting through vast amounts of web and enterprise based content and presenting it in an organized and meaningful format. There are a variety of content types, such as: courses, articles, videos, photographs/pictures, research reports, case studies, and other forms of digital learning objects. Content is typically classified into particular categories or topic areas that are relevant to users.”

A lot of excellent resources have established themselves in this space in the past decade.  There are more new entrants every year as the market continues to drive towards more refined solutions, and organizations digitize organic content to harness the power of the existing resources and content is subjected to daily doses of content Darwinism, where only the fittest rise to the top.   This is one of the spaces in the learning environment I am most excited about in 2017.  What’s not to love, right?

Like any evolving market niche, Curation has the ability transform the learning space in good and not-so-good ways.  The good ways are pretty evident in terms of ease of access, micro-learning, millennial-focused design and minimum standards for content and professionalism to name but a few.

What doesn’t get addressed as much though is what I like to call the Curation Gap.  The Curation Gap is the difference between the specific job and task requirements, and the curated content either found or provided.   It is has real cost and risks.

The costs associated with the Curation Gap are real and quantifiable.  Let’s say a course covers 80% of what an employee needs to know to meet performance objectives.  Meaning the employee needs to find additional content on their own to fill the gap. Assuming no material cost to take the course (free), let’s allot 2 hours to searching, comparing, previewing, starting/re-starting anew with another course, reviewing and rating on top of the time allotted to the course(s) itself.   This time could be extrapolated at a standard rate multiplied by x employees over y time to get a hidden cost figure for the organization.  This cost is both real and not productive in any manner.  Add to that the consideration that employees will fill this gap with different information and actions which may not fully align to business strategy or actual job requirements and we can then add risk to that figure.  In high consequence environments in particular, the results could be devastating.

Risk of course is the ultimate price in terms of compliance, efficiency, effectiveness and customer satisfaction and retention which may result from leaving the Curation Gap unaddressed.  Organizations with robust planning will have a good front end-analysis, understand these gaps, and plan for them through custom content development that can be added or paired with curated content to ensure employees get what they need.

I think we’ll see a good deal of improvement and advancement in terms of narrowing that gap in the years ahead as xAPI takes hold and true prescriptive learning is enabled within curated offerings.  Until then, however, it’s critically important that organizations (and the people in charge of their learning) assess, plan for and mitigate the Curation Gap.

Bob Szostak still dreams of one day owning a Mystery Machine and is the Manager of Business Development in North America for Raytheon Professional Services.