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Instructional Designers and Trainers as Digital Curators?

Curator_large_2 Sometimes a few conversations converge to result in a sort of serendipitous moment of insight --or at least questions.

First there was Jeff Cobb's More than 100 Free Places to Learn--and Counting. It's a phenomenal list of resources, but I would guess overwhelming to the average person.

Then a few days later Jeff links to Steve Rubel's article on The Digital Curator, of whom Steve says:

The call of the curator requires people who are selfless and willing to act as sherpas and guides. They're identifiable subject matter experts who dive through mountains of digital information and distill it down to its most relevant, essential parts. Digital Curators are the future of online content. Brands, media companies and dedicated individuals can all become curators. Further, they don't even need to create their own content, just as a museum curator rarely hangs his/her own work next to a Da Vinci. They do, however, need to be subject matter experts.

Curators are not editors either. The notion of an editor inherently implies that space is finite. Online it's not. Curators don't need to necessarily be trained in cutting, but in knowing where and how to unearth those special high-quality "finds" and to make them presentable. It's just as much about the experience and the way the information is presented, as it is the content.

What struck me in juxtaposing these two articles was that there's a LOT of free learning out there and what's needed is for someone to help make sense of it all for those people who have neither the time nor the inclination to sift through everything. 

In this kind of environment, the role of the "trainer" or the "instructional designer" really is fundamentally changing into someone who may no longer be designing learning "events" but is in fact facilitating the development and ongoing use of personal learning and work environments (to borrow Tony Karrer's term), including finding and re-packaging existing learning modules.

This ties back to an earlier post and comments from Jeff, who notes that  "categories like PD and instructional design, among others, are currently suffering from still being confined to the old boxes in which they have been trapped for so long." So true! The nature and delivery of information is changing, so how to adjust to this kind of environment?

As all of this jostled around in my brain, I also was looking into how portal pages like Netvibes and PageFlakes (which I think have more advanced tab-sharing capacities right now than i-Google) might play into this idea as well. Some of the things I started to consider:

  • Having learning facilitators who are performing digital curating duties to identify various blogs, articles and learning resources related to the personal learning needs of employees or groups of employees in an organization. These could then be packaged into PageFlakes or Netvibes tabs and made readily available to others in the organization.
  • Related to my thoughts yesterday on Wikiversity and the use of reading groups and learning objects, I would also see instructional designers and trainers facilitating the work of such groups by setting up systems that feed into the knowledge base, systems like helping people set up tags and RSS feeds, for example.

The point of all this sort of meandering thought is that 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 see much more of a need for facilitation and distillation, using the principles of good instructional design, but focusing more on helping people to navigate through readily available resources to create a more effective and personalized environment for learning. It's less about the content and more about the process.

What do you think? How is the work of instructional design and learning changing and does the idea of a digital curator impact the process as we've known it?


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Sychronicity at work here...but my blog post this morning is another side of the same coin.

You once again have given all of us a lot to chew on!

Michele--Great post, and thanks for "curating" some value out of my disorganized thinking! I look forward to seeing what kind of responses you get on this and hope to chime back in sometime in the next few days with some of my own (unfortunately still suffering from travelitis at the moment). --Jeff

Hey Michele,
It never ceases to amaze me how similarly we think about things! This is very similar to my own vision, except where you used the word "curator," I use the word "guide."

Last April, the Learning Circuits Big Question was: ILT and OTS Vendors: What Should They Do in the face of demanding customers, lower margins, and more competition? (

In my response (, I said:
"Trainers become the guides through the jungle of available knowledge. They may have to create less, but they can facilitate more. And they’ll have more ways of facilitating–-blogs with current information, refresher courses in Second Life, one-on-one coaching via IM to name just a few. They’ll be able to see their students through the entire spectrum as learning becomes performance."

There are a lot of people out there predicting the end of Instructional Design. But as you say so well here, I think all that access to information is going to make Instructional Design even more necessary. How else can we convert all that information into performance?

You should check out this month's Big Question ( and track back to your post here because in a way you answered the question of: Instructional Design-If-When-How Much?

Thanks always for your great insights.

Oh, and one other thought came to mind. Recently, for my own personal development and to help out busy instructional designers at the company I work for, I started a project I call "Buzzin on the Biz." Basically, I do a wide scan of learning-related blogs and boil them all down to:
-a quick overview of the hot topics (basically what were the most talked-about-topics)
-an overview of what the professional organizations are talking about
-a summary of 5 - 6 posts that I think are especially useful

So, instead of having to read a bunch of blogs, my coworkers can just scan "Buzzin' on the Biz" and get a quick overview of the current state of our industry.

And to make sure I keep everyone informed, I also review this information at a biweekly meeting we have.

I guess that makes me a "digital curator"!

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