I have been busy as usual for this time of year, assisting with showcases for various L&D clients. The reflections and predictions of L&D trends that flood in over New Year help me consider and prepare for what might come up in these kinds of meetings.
This week I decided to test the waters with a trend that has been catching my eye for a little while: ‘content curation’. For the last 3 years I’ve been describing the design approach that I use for blended learning solutions as a mixture of ‘recycling and regeneration of learning assets’. This week within a couple of showcases I twice spoke about ‘content curation’. I did so carefully, placing it next to my ‘recycling and regeneration’ description, and the client feedback was that ‘content curation’ seemed a good term for me to use in this context.
It seems like the role of content curator is catching on – box fresh for L&D – but my recent research on current definitions of this role has rung one or two old alarm bells from my parallel experience of the art world. I think that the Arts sector has some cautionary tales for the L&D sector to consider before they rush in to promoting the curator’s role as a replacement for content creation.
I have long been interested in issues of power within the creative sector. My 1993 Royal College of Art thesis discussed hierarchies in art – there is a generally accepted art world hierarchy (related to business) of the collector/dealer at the top and artist at the bottom. The art curator is placed in between. The role of the art curator has developed substantially since the 1960s and has risen in popularity since the 1990s. It has not been without tensions:
“While some artists occasionally do work as curators, it’s important to acknowledge that the relationship between artists and curators is structurally somewhat like the relationship between workforce and management: like the workers, most artists suspect that their “supervisors,” the curators, do not really understand the art, that they are controlling, egocentric, and ignorant, and are mismanaging the (art) factory and mistreating the producers…” http://www.e-flux.com/journal/art-without-artists/
On the other hand, there is a defined professional curator/artist relationship:
“The curator selects a work for exhibition and makes decisions about the context within which it will be displayed. This requires sensitivity to the interests and intentions of the artist.” http://www2.tate.org.uk/nauman/themes_4.htm
Why is art curatorship relevant to content curatorship in L&D? Well, I’m picking up a growing L&D emphasis that seems to suggest that content curation requires greater creativity than content creation itself, and moreover, that content creators should not be part of the curation process. I suspect this perspective is aimed at fitting in with business aims of recycling and efficiency.
The 2010 article Art without Artists? from e-flux asks:
“…are we sure that this curatorial gain does not bring a correspondingly diminished status for the artist?”
Current definitions would appear to indicate that for content creators this could well be the case, as L&D seem to be encouraged to not create any assets at all:
“Content curation doesn’t include creating new content; it’s the act of discovering, compiling, and sharing existing content with your online followers.” http://blog.hootsuite.com/beginners-guide-to-content-curation/
And interestingly, the impression given is that this kind of selection process should rest with a content curator, rather than a content creator.
Is this emphasis on creation negation really the best way forward for L&D? Neil Vogel, founder of About.com, commented last year:
“Someone is always saying ‘content is king’ or ‘content is nothing, curation is king’. I think it is dangerous for us to be like that…..The whole reason this business still exists – and there was a time where the investment in it was so light that you could argue that it shouldn’t have existed – is that people value really good content.” http://www.forbes.com/sites/andrewcave/2015/03/16/is-created-or-curated-content-king-who-cares-says-about-com/
In 2012 Atlantic Wire’s Richard Lawson said that no internet buzzword irked him more than ‘curator’:
“It’s a reappropriated term that used to mean something good — putting lovely and interesting things in a museum! — but now denotes a technique of cobbling together pre-existing web content and sharing it with readers/followers/whomever. In other words, linking to things. It’s an awfully highfalutin term for something that many of us do every day, on Facebook and Twitter. Sharing links isn’t some special skill or trade, but self-described curators, who rose to great power in 2012, are effectively asserting that it is.” http://www.thewire.com/entertainment/2012/12/worst-words-2012/59909/
I’d say, be careful what you wish for. In saying this, I am conscious of my own bias – I guess I typify those in the Arts sector who were reported in December 2015 from a recent survey as still having enthusiasm for digital technology, but are now taking a more cautious approach. http://www.artsprofessional.co.uk/magazine/article/cautious-approach
I offer two 21st century cautionary examples from the art world for future L&D content curators to ponder. Take a moment to reflect on the following observations on art curatorship, both from e-flux in 2010:
“An example of how curatorial power can be distinguished from artistic authorship by its legislative authority over what takes place within the space of art could be seen in the São Paulo Biennial. Whereas, in a kind of grand authorial gesture meant as a comment on the crisis of biennials, the curators first announced that the entire biennial would be devoid of art, the concept later changed, presumably when this gesture was found to discourage professional visitors from attending.”
“Yet another example of such a tendency is the “Curating Degree Zero Archive,” a travelling exhibition of “curatorial research” designed as a kind of artistic installation. Conceived by curators, the exhibition circulates through a network of public art institutions largely run by curators. The issue is not whether curators should have archives or open them to others, or to what degree this is interesting or not; rather, the question concerns whether the people in charge of administering exhibitions of art should be using the spaces and funding available for art to exhibit their own reading lists, references, and sources as a kind of artwork. Even more ludicrous is the fact that the dissolution of the self-contained (autonomous) artwork is cited as a justification for supplanting the work of artists in the museum altogether.”
I’d like to posit the same considerations to L&D content curators and creators, as I would to art curators and artists:
- What about promoting the notion of collaboration?
- Marriage rather than divorce?
- Peer-to-peer partnership?
- Rather than adopt an approach based on the elevation of power to a particular role over another, why not move forward on the basis of mutual respect for the creator as well as the importance of curatorship?
Hans Ulrich Olbrist, described as “curator extraordinaire” in the art world, is well known for his “highly collaborative” curatorship and his “intensely high” regard for those who make art. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/mar/08/hans-ulrich-obrist-everything-i-do-connected-velocity-interview
Instead of culling or demoting content creation, consider partnering content curators equally with content creators – much like creatives in advertising, where copywriters and art directors are hired in pairs. Content curators and creators might find each other’s strengths compatible and, dare I say it, be more efficient collaboratively when it comes to filtering, identifying and designating. I find the majority of creators I work with in both Art and L&D sectors informed, well-qualified and experienced when it comes to targeted analysis of this kind.
Otherwise, be sure those golden threads you’re content curating in the glow of the new are substantial enough to weather a future winter of dis-content from your target audiences.
“While artists may well produce art in the absence of curators, if no art is being produced, curators of contemporary art, at least, are out of a job.” (Anton Vidokle, 2010)