Archive for the ‘Book Discussions’ Category

Every once in a while you read a book that smacks you in the head with inspiration and ideas that can seem so clear, but are also hard to firmly grasp. Creativity Inc, by Ed Catmull (with Amy Wallace), is one such book. If you lead creative people or work in a creative field, it should definitely be at the top of your reading list.

The book is full of interesting stories and important lessons, and you’ll get a real inside view of Pixar and the decisions and accidents that led to its amazing success. But more importantly, you’ll get a terrific how-to manual for managing creative teams.

For me, Catmull’s reflection gave clear voice to some of my own emerging philosophy, helped clarify things that have been nagging me, and occasionally laid bare wrongheadedness that I had not yet seen. My copy is full of highlighted sections and scribbled margin notes, and I looked forward to writing this post so I could process just a few of them into articulate insights. I’m hoping my reflections here might start a cyber conversation among other L&D people who have read the book.

Here are just three major take-aways from my perspective.

The importance of cultivating true collaboration

Catmull shared three related ideas: First, greatness is born of collaboration. And real collaboration is evidenced by the day-to-day behaviors of teams that work together, not occasional events. Most importantly, candid critique is a critical component of healthy collaboration, so we need to work hard to ensure people can effectively give and receive feedback.

Here’s Ed Catmull on the subject:

“Too many of us think of ideas as being singular, as if they float on the ether, fully formed and independent of the people who wrestle with them. Ideas, though, are not singular. They are forged through tens of thousands of decisions, often made by dozens of people.” (p. 75)

“Getting the team right is the necessary precursor to getting the ideas right. It is easy to say you want talented people, and you do, but the way those people interact with one another is the real key.”  (p.74)

“A hallmark of a healthy creative culture is that its people feel free to share ideas, opinions, and criticisms.” (p. 86)

What strikes me when looking at L&D processes and cultures is that don’t often imagine processes that allow for creative ideas to emerge from good tries and critiques.

We sometimes don’t even imagine processes that rely on collaboration, but instead assign projects to individual designers and developers. There is real magic in collaboration, as Pixar’s success can attest. Since I now have a one-person consulting practice, I am very jealous of people who are surrounded by other talented L&D colleagues with whom they can easily collaborate – and I am sad to realize that we don’t actually take advantage of that very often. I know I have to find more collaborators myself, and “working out loud” can make a difference.

We have to find more ways to draw on the talents of our teams to work together toward an outcome rather than working serially to just do their part. We have to be open to hearing critique of our work and be willing to share candid feedback with our peers, and that can be hard.

The good news is that the agile* and successive approximation** design processes that seem to be coming to the fore in our field are more amenable to a collaborative process. We need to be careful that we don’t eliminate the collaborative features of these processes when we implement those design models.


The need to trust the people, not the process.

“We should trust in people, I told them, not processes. The error we’d made was forgetting that “the process” has no agenda and doesn’t have taste. It is just a tool – a framework.” (p. 79)

So true! “The process” can’t tell good work from bad! Our people, on the other hand, are often very astute at sensing or judging what works.

Catmull talks quite a bit about how important it is to trust creative people to do what they do. We can give parameters and get out of the way, and many creative people will be able to work within limits. It strikes me that too many creative teams in L&D are locked down by process, artificial deadlines, and defined roles and responsibilities.

“Making the process better, easier, and cheaper is an important aspiration, something we continually work on – but it is not the goal. Making something great is the goal.” (p. 134)

L&D has a love-hate relationship with process, I think. We have dozens of models that sketch out the steps that result in instructional products, performance support products, and other outcomes. Many organizations have worked hard to improve process efficiency. But the truth is that our process emerges with the needs of individual projects, outcomes, and clients. I used to joke that we needed to date-stamp our process maps, because they needed to be adjusted so often to account for changing circumstances and new recommendations for improvement.

It’s the people we should trust will get the job done, not the process.

Catmull describes processes that actually allow for (and encourage if needed) a complete re-envisioning of  the project – including the entire premise and the flow of the story from which Pixar movies are developed.

Nailing down the outcome too soon is a mistake – creative ideas need room to iterate and find their footing. We think that we can sketch a design immediately after assessment, and that design can be solidified for approval before we begin development. But maybe we shouldn’t push so hard for that flow.

I admit that I have been one who has insisted on final objectives and fleshed out designs before development begins – and that idea sounds smart. It’s now quite clear to me that isn’t how it works. We can agree on initial design ideas, but we have to have room to iterate, change our minds, get brilliant ideas, while we are in the process of developing. And collaboration and candid critiques are important parts of that process.

Pixar has the advantage of working on a closed set while ideas get massaged into shape. We have clients that need to be involved, and a loose creative processes can look pretty messy to them. But Michael Allen’s successive approximation method and others like it demonstrate that there are ways to have clients be completely engaged in an iterative process and still be more than satisfied with the outcome.


How to manage with humility

“I’ve spent nearly forty years thinking about how to help smart, ambitious people work effectively with one another. the way I see it, my job as a manager is to create a fertile environment, keep it healthy, and watch for the things that undermine it.” (p. xv)

Aside from being a terrific how-to manual for managing creative work groups and processes, Creativity, Inc. is a book-length reflection by a senior leader describing his process of growth as a manager – a process that includes significant self-monitoring, deliberate reflection, peer discussion, and planned action. It’s about how to be a humble and thoughtful leader – how to focus relentlessly on one’s self, on what “I” can do to be better rather than on pointing out the flaws in processes, people, and outcomes. Ed Catmull has acted quite generously in letting us into his mind and his meditations on creativity, leadership, and leading creative people.

I love his commitment to leaders as teachers:

“Are we thoughtful about how people learn and grow? As leaders, we should think of ourselves as teachers and try to create companies in which teaching is seen as a valued way to contribute to the success of the whole. Do we think of most activities as teaching opportunities and experiences as ways of learning? One of the most crucial responsibilities of leadership is creating a culture that rewards those who lift not just our stock prices but our aspirations as well.” (p. 123)

I no longer have the privilege of leading others in my day-to-day work, but I am often working with learning professionals who see me as an experienced practitioner and potential mentor.  I love my generative role as learning facilitator for learning professionals. I recognize that my job is not to tell others what to do and how to do it, but to facilitate an ongoing conversation about how past successes and current innovations can be leveraged for what’s next in L&D. I don’t see my role as consultant and professor as me teaching “them” – my approach is much more facilitative. Catmull gave me a great deal to consider about how to create a positive culture for learning in the engagements I pursue.


At the very beginning of the book, Ed Catmull says that Creativity, Inc. “is an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible” (p. xvi). The book helps us understand how to bolster creativity, aspire to excellence, and create a successful, profitable business through great results. there are many more gems than what I tried to capture here, some very personal to my own work and experience; I an sure you will find the same. Highly recommended.

But wear headgear because it might smack you on the head, too.


Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the unseen forces that stand in the way of true inspiration. By Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace. (Random House, 2014)

* For more on Agile methodology, look here.
** For more on the successive approximation method, go here.

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This post is the first in an occasional series in which I will share my book recommendations on a variety of topics. Stephen King has said, “when you stack up the years we are allowed against all there is to read, time is very short indeed.” In these Bibliophile’s Bookshelf posts, I’ll be offering a short list of books for people with limited time – books that I think get to the heart of the matter and offer great advice. Enjoy!


The role of a consultant varies widely, and the competencies necessary to be effective also constitute a long list. Learning to be an effective consultant requires gaining expertise, strategizing a process that works, becoming skilled at data gathering and analysis,  developing a wide range of communication and influence skills, and more. Of course, having one’s own consulting practice requires yet another set of skills in business development and marketing – but that’s a subject for another post. For now, here are my picks for consulting books to have on your bookshelf, whether physical or virtual.

Consulting in Uncertainty: The power of inquiry
Ann K. Brooks and Kathy Edwards
Routledge, 2014.  On Amazon here.

This book takes a unique – and thoroughly modern – look at consulting as an action learning project instead of as an advice-giving enterprise. Brooks and Edwards suggest that the best outcomes will come from a collaboration between consultants and clients with each bringing their areas of expertise to the table and engaging together to define questions and seek answers. They also advocate experimentation along the way – testing theories and validating approaches before going all-in on a particular response to an organizational opportunity or issue. Consulting in Uncertainty is a small book, but it covers all the bases: a consulting model (the inquiry model), methods, needed skills, and consulting challenges.

“Consulting as inquiry assumes that (a) consulting must be outcome oriented rather than problem oriented; (b) consulting must be focused on the co-creation of new knowledge rather than expert knowledge; (c) consulting and client relationships are personal rather than just professional; and (d) dynamic rather than static knowledge is needed in a diverse and uncertain world.”

~ Ann K. Brooks and Kathy Edwards, Consulting in Uncertainty

The Trusted Advisor
David H. Maister, Charles H. Green, and Robert M. Galford
Touchstone, 2000.  On Amazon here.

The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook: A comprehensive toolkit for leading with trust
Charles H. Green and Andrea P. Howe
John Wiley & Sons, 2012.  On Amazon here.

The Trusted Advisor provides practical advice on building trusting relationships with clients – the kinds of relationships in which you can truly be a valued collaborator, sought-after advisor, and business partner. Maister, Green and Galford do a great job laying out different levels of relationships (service-based, needs-based, relationship-based, and trust-based) and readers can imagine when each level might be appropriate. If you want to reach the trusted advisor level, the book offers a trust equation and a trust development process that provide guidance on how to engage with clients to build deeper relationships. There is also plenty of advice on practical skills. The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook supplements these ideas with helpful checklists and spotlights on specific aspects of consulting engagements (e.g. pitching ideas, managing risk, communicating at the C-suite level).

“While outstanding technical competence (or content) is a nonnegotiable, essential ingredient for success, it is not sufficient. Trust is a lot richer than logic alone, and it is a significant component of success.”

~ Charles H. Green and Andrea P. Howe, The Trusted Advisor

Consulting on the Inside: A practical guide for internal consultants
Beverly Scott and B. Kim Barnes
ASTD, 2011 (2nd Edition).  On Amazon here.

Many people who work in learning and development roles are employees of the organizations they support – that is, they consult from the inside. Scott and Barnes’ book speaks to the dynamics of that particular role, and readers will recognize the joys and the challenges inherent therein. This book offers a take on the consulting process that is more traditional, although Scott and Barnes take pains to point out that it is an iterative and complex one. There is solid advice on all of the typical process activities – contracting, gathering data and giving clients feedback, strategizing change, implementing, and evaluating. You’ll also find several chapters dedicated to exploring the skills needed to be effective. In addition, Consulting on the Inside is very readable, with many sidebars, bulleted lists, and summaries.

“Becoming a master consultant is the result of a long journey. No matter how well educated or intelligent you may be, mastery is not given, but rather earned through courageous action, thoughtful reflection, and the discipline of learning from both success and failure.”

~ Beverly Scott and Kim Barnes, Consulting on the Inside

Additional books on the topic of consulting abound, and I welcome suggestions as to your favorites if you want to comment below. Nearby on the same bookshelf are books on consulting as a business, performance consulting, and assessing needs. But those are posts for another day.

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I’ve recently been reading a biography of Julia Child, the irrepressible cook, cookbook author, and public television star. Although I certainly knew of the celebrity and a bit of her legacy, I really knew nothing about her life. And I never thought reading a biography would get me thinking about learning and teaching.

Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.  ~ Julia Child

On the value of experimentation
Apparently, Julia was a real perfectionist who took her role as teacher and mentor to millions of American cooks very seriously. Crafting her cookbooks took years because every recipe was studied, tested, and validated with American cooks in mind. Julia experimented with recipes with the same rigor as any scientist, carefully changing variables and recording results.

Along the way, she learned how to be a cook and not just how to put together a recipe – she was able to be more spontaneous and flexible because the basics were second nature. Even still, she ensured her recipes were explicit and clear so that home cooks could be assured of the results regardless of their experience around a kitchen.

Being a strong advocate for scholarly practice, I related to Julia’s penchant for experimentation. It’s a wonder we don’t do more of it in our everyday practice in learning and development. We’re not always very good at regularly taking notes about what’s working and what isn’t, and tenaciously digging until we understand the reasons why.

But I can turn my classes and programs into proving grounds and continuously monitor my practices and outcomes. My experiments aren’t able to be repeated many times a day as Julia often did to work out tricky combinations or cooking instructions, but over the course of a term, or several projects, I’m sure that careful attention could yield interesting insights. And Julia also had a collaborator, providing the example that pooling ideas with other L&D professionals might be a way to get to the right answers more quickly.

If you’re in a good profession, it’s hard to get bored, because you’re never finished—there will always be work you haven’t yet done. ~ Julia Child

On the benefits of practice
On her TV show and in personal appearances, Julia earned her audience by being personable and real, allowing them to see mistakes and demonstrating a wry humor and inimitable flair. She explained things clearly and succinctly, often giving broader cooking and troubleshooting tips along the way. But these demonstrations were not as easy as Julia made them appear; every show was repeatedly practiced and stage-managed – stopwatch-timed and choreographed to ensure that all went well.

Learning that made me a little less self-conscious about the practicing I still do to prepare for a workshop or class!

You must have discipline to have fun. – Julia Child
On attending to learner’s needs
Another example that Julia sets for me is her deep concern for her audience – she genuinely wanted people to not only learn to cook, but learn to love cooking and enjoy the results. To ensure their success, Julia made sure she experimented with the ingredients they would buy, and with the equipment they would have in the house. She didn’t make assumptions about what people might already know and worked to relate to them on their terms.
My teaching is almost exclusive aimed at L&D professionals, faculty, and others charged with designing and supporting learning – and I, too, want people to learn the foundations, love what they do, and get great results. I want to pay more attention to the diversity of learners in my audience – the kinds of learning they promote, their backgrounds, and their goals. I think my teaching would benefit from relying a little less on my assumptions about the learners and instead listening to their conversations and customizing my approaches.
On the remarkable life of Julia Child
Julia Child led a fascinating and full life, and made a dramatic impact on American’s approach to cooking. This month marks the 100th anniversary of her birth. Julia came to the forefront at a time when many housewives were tired of doing everything fast and easy, cooking out of cans and boxes. Instead, she taught the delight of fresh ingredients, lovingly prepared and served.
Julia Child is an inspiration as a chef, to be sure – but she’s also an inspiration as a learner and teacher.
I don’t think about whether people will remember me or not. I’ve been an okay person. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve taught people a thing or two. That’s what’s important.     – Julia Child
Note: The biography I’ve been reading is Bob Spitz’s Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child.

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One of the items on my summer reading list was Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and I managed to find enough quiet myself over the last week or so to read it.  In it, Cain cautions against the “extrovert ideal” and tries to show how introverts see the world. Since I consider myself an introvert (and have tested as such on the Myers-Briggs scale), I thought it might provide some insight and advice.

I’m still processing what I think about the book. I’m sensitive to Cain’s tendency to attribute many of the world’s woes to extrovert tendencies (e.g. the Wall Street debacle, wrong-headed leadership), and claiming much of its creativity and beauty for the introverted team (e.g. technological inventions, art). That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but Quiet is clearly, and proudly, a book celebrating the gifts of the introverted. Overall, Cain makes some interesting observations and connections, and she reports on a wide range of studies that can certainly help us to discern – and explain –  our varying gifts and foibles.

The introverted learner
As a learning professional, I would have liked to see more advice about how to support learning for people with different temperaments. Cain cautions us about the over-use of group work and collaboration, which can be somewhat toxic for introverted students, and she provides nearly a chapter’s worth of advice on raising introverted children.

But I’ll spend the rest of this post thinking-out-loud about how we – as learning professionals – can be more sensitive to the needs of our learners and still provide the kind of stimulating environment that we know promotes learning. Cain’s research summaries provide a lot of food for thought in terms of how people with different temperaments respond to various stimuli, and the kinds of activities they might enjoy.

What should a social constructivist do for introverts?
I have social constructivist tendencies in my approach to design – I hold myself accountable for ensuring that there are opportunities for personal interaction in my designs, and that there is group reflection (not just individual reflection), lots of practice with developmental feedback, and other techniques that engage a group or have a lot of stimulating characteristics. Even in online learning, which could be designed to be guided self-study, I push myself to devise activities that require learners to engage with one another, or with others in the world outside of the online learning platform.  

It strikes me that some of these strategies may be painful for my introverted learners. I may need to better balance public and private learning activities in my work.

Engaging with others is critical to learning – and despite Susan Cain’s argument to the contrary – I think it is critical to creativity and innovative thinking as well. But there are approaches to engaging others that are more suited to the extroverted, and other approaches more suited to the introverted, and having that variety is important when we don’t know the temperament of our audience.

For introverted learners, here are some of the strategies that come to mind:

  • Provide time for private reflection before jumping into group discussion. In a classroom, have students jot down their ideas before talking, and initiate turn-taking strategies that give the quieter ones a chance to contribute their ideas. Introverts should be fine in online learning and e-learning courses, although providing direction on how much online interaction is required may be helpful.
  • Ensure that the directions for complicated activities are well spelled out before groups begin to engage – the noise of a classroom shuffle or the confusing opening chatter of an online discussion can be overwhelming otherwise.
  • Vary the size of the groups, ensuring that some groups are pairs and triplets to balance those that need to be larger. Try to ensure that the environment for discussion isn’t “noisy” – separate groups into breakout rooms (live or online), provide separate online discussion forums; and limit potential distractions.
  • Manage the intensity of practice activities by making them less public where possible. Be attentive to learners who seem to be extremely uncomfortable and adjust approaches if appropriate. Try not to put them on the spot if that isn’t necessary – let learners plan their contributions or think about how they want to approach the role play before having to engage in front of others.
  • Provide written support resources and allow learners an opportunity to review them before they have to engage on the material… this may be especially important with case studies and background reading that lays the groundwork for group work.
  • Provide articles and books as learning resources, and provide reflection guides as well. Encourage learners to pair up to share insights rather than bringing them together for a larger discussion.
  • Encourage webinar participants to limit chat conversations to on-topic points and questions. Avoid having subject matter experts post complex side conversations in the chat box when the presenter is speaking (quick answers and references probably okay). When asking everyone to post answers at once, ask them to wait to “send” until you cue them to go ahead, and provide time for learners to scroll the chat box for themselves before commenting and summarizing.
  • In situations where participation is graded, do not hold the vocal people up as the only ones “engaged.” Look for clues that the introverted learners are engaged and be sure to deliberately (and subtly) offer them opportunity to speak.
  • In an environment where mentoring or peer learning is important, deliberately pair learners with partners so that they don’t have the pressure to initiate that relationship on their own.
  • Work with introverted learners on a plan for engaging in conferences. I can share my experiences with the conference environment and give them tips so they are not surprised. I can help them plan some networking strategies that are more one-on-one in nature rather than the loud cocktail-party type. I can encourage them (or give them “permission”) to go back to their rooms afterwards rather than engage with the crowds in receptions and dinners.
  • Provide activity choices with varying degrees of intensity and engagement with others so learners can choose what is most comfortable and appealing.

Did I get any of that wrong, do you think?  What additional items would you add?

I often advocate for a range of different kinds of learning activities within a formal learning design, and for an even larger variety of resources in a well-designed learning environment intended to support specific needs. Looking at options through an introvert/extrovert lens might be another way to help ensure I have the right mix for all learners.

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Welcome to today’s stop on Karl Kapp’s Gamification book tour. In The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, Karl effectively cuts through the hype about gaming and lays out strategies that can allow learning professionals to understand how to use the power of games to improve learning.

Gamification is quite simply the act of “adding game elements, game theory,and game mechanics to learning content.” Far from being just a way to dress up an instructional approach or make it fun, applying game concepts can indeed improve both learning and application.

Here are some of the things you might learn from the book:

What people mean when they talk about “gamification” – the factors that transform engaging learning into game play:
It’s always important for us to have a clear understanding of emerging techniques in our field. Our clients are hearing about the importance of learning games from the business press, and they likely have opinions ranging from extreme enthusiasm to dismissiveness. While the characteristics that Karl lists here are quite familiar to those of us who have been dedicated to making learning engaging in all its forms, Karl explains how these elements combine to create effective games.

The evidence regarding whether games are effective, or more effective than traditional approaches to learning and instruction:
As you know, I am a huge fan of linking research to practice. Karl does a great job laying out the theory that explains how games work to motivate learners and improve learning outcomes, and he summarizes the research that demonstrates that game play produces important results. Studying these sections of the book will put you in a much better position to discuss your recommendations with both reluctant and overenthusiastic clients. These sections, for me, really underscore that designing effective game interactions is indeed serious business that requires careful thought along with a sense of fun. With this background, you’ll be better able to explain what each feature of your game design accomplishes and be better able to advocate for key characteristics that ensure the outcomes you want.

The kinds of learning challenges that are best addressed by games:
While games don’t have to be complicated, most of what we think about when considering a game strategy requires quite an investment in time and effort to design and develop. It’s helpful to understand a bit more which types of learning goals can be effectively addressed through gaming techniques. Karl lays out some specific recommendations for applying gamification to different types of knowledge (declarative, conceptual, rules-based, and procedural) and learning domains (cognitive, affective, psychomotor).

The process for designing a game:
As new instructional techniques come into use, they challenge the traditional processes we have for designing, developing and delivering learning, and they change the roles that need to be played. Karl describes some of the implications for design processes and design teams, launching from the traditional ADDIE model along with the emerging scrum or Agile methodologies.

The book contains much more than just these sections, of course, and it contains plenty of examples which bring the concepts to life. As such, it’s a valuable resource for design ideas even if your goal is to include some game elements without actually designing a game-based activity. In addition to providing advice on what to do, Karl also has some cautions regarding the issues that may be created if we  incorporate some elements without incorporating others, or don’t pay careful attention to how certain elements are used.

In all, then, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction is a terrific addition to your bookshelf; I highly recommend it. Nice job, Karl!

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In my last post, I commented on recent discussions on the topic of curation. I observed that my Learning Environment Design framework is in some ways a vision for curating learning resources in order to support complex learning needs in organizations. But I had another motive for reading Steven Rosenbaum’s book, Curation Nation.

A need for curation.
One of the things I’ve heard from colleagues and students is that they don’t have time to go looking for the best blogs, twitter feeds, articles, and books for their professional development (no less to read them once they know where to look). They find themselves overwhelmed with information and work demands, and just keeping up with email and project deadlines in the corporate world can be daunting.

Steven Rosenbaum suggests that in this situation, a curator might be highly valued – having someone who can be trusted to pull together the best stuff. Rosenbaum says, “we can see a future in which individuals can galvanize and publish their passions and knowledge in a way that will create value from personal passions and niche expertise.”

The interesting thing here is that a curator doesn’t necessarily have to “own” the space – we can have lots of different curators pulling together resources that seem important from their own unique perspectives. The idea is not for the curator to create a comprehensive directory, but to cut through all the stuff and recommend the things that the curator finds most important or interesting. A professional can pick the curator that seems to be most in line with his or her own point of view. It’s like knowing which movie critic has your taste, or which bookseller is best at recommending books you will enjoy.

Curating learning for learning professionals.
Since supporting the development of learning professionals is my passion, I’m wondering if I might be a good resource for curating learning resources for people working in our field. I recently opened a consulting practice that I’ve called Learning 4 Learning Professionals (L4LP). As I build out my offerings, I’m wondering if I should collate links or create a Twitter feed to promote learning resources and interesting ideas in L&D.

In addition to continuing to blog, I might curate and make lists of the resources I find most helpful, links to other articles on interesting trends and big ideas in our field, links to my favorite conferences and workshop opportunities (aside from my own workshops, of course) – there are a lot of possibilities. These would NOT be paid advertisements, but simply my own take on what’s useful.

What do you think? Who are the curators you already follow? What are some of the questions you have about what’s “out there” that you’d appreciate if somebody (maybe me) would put together in one place? Where would you prefer looking for such things – a blog, a Twitter feed, a web page, a LinkedIn group, a Facebook page, or some other outlet?

To get a sense for whether this might be something that you (gentle readers) might appreciate, I put together a quick survey. If you’d like to take the time to respond to this 4-item survey on possible curation strategies related to learning for learning professionals, you can access it at the following link. 

L4LP Curation Survey

Or, you can comment on this post or contact me through my consulting practice at www.L4LP.com. I would be happy to hear from you.

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As learning leaders, we wear a lot of hats. Just like in fashion, the popularity of these hats tends to come and go, but there are classic ones that never seem to go out of style.

Which of these hats is on the shelf in your closet? – trainer, designer, performance consultant, learning architect, learning consultant, learning advisor, business partner, developer, learning and performance professional, knowledge manager, program evaluator, community of practice leader, OD consultant, chief learning officer – the possibilities go on.

And here’s the newest hat available in L&D shop windows: curator. I have to say, as much as I am sometimes worn out by the endless parade of hats we’re encouraged to favor, I’m loving this newest one.

Up until recently, I thought that a curator worked primarily in museums, and it wasn’t a role that I wanted to take up. But here’s what a curator DOES:

  • Functions as a keeper, or a custodian, personally responsible for the acquisition, classification, and safeguarding of materials in a collection.
  • Facilitates meaning-making by bringing together a variety of ideas and practices in a framework or context through which they can be accessed.
  • Acts as a catalyst, whose actions – the selection and interpretation of materials – initiates a dialogue.
  • Makes ideas available; acts as the filter through which ideas and practices become known. 

 (Above role definitions are adopted from Curators in Context.)

That’s EXACTLY what L&D professionals need to be doing these days.

Curation is another way to describe a process I have called Learning Environment Design, an idea I’ve been talking and writing about for a number of years. When people have complex, emerging learning needs, it’s hard for a formal curriculum to keep up. In the “new culture of learning,” it is assumed that we will identify our own learning needs and use all the resources at hand to find our own learning resources and propel our knowledge and skill development forward. But that’s not as easy as it sounds.

Learning Environment Design advocates for the idea that as learning leaders, we MUST do a better job helping our learners find the best “stuff” to support their learning. There are so many possible resources and activities that can support learning of complex skill sets and ever-changing knowledge bases, it’s imperative that we help our learners get to the best material as quickly as possible. We have to be curators!

I’ve been reading Curation Nation by Steven Rosenbaum, and finding a lot of terrific advice that I can put to use in advocating for learning environments. Mr. Rosenbaum talks about curation as a way to solve one of the biggest problems of the internet age – too much information. Search algorithms can be helpful, but there’s no substitute for solid recommendations on where to find the best information, the most helpful experts, and the leading edge conversations. And how do we find those recommendations?  Curators!

“The question is, by what mechanism does the cream rise to the top? The secret ingredient is people. In order to collect the best content and put it together, someone’s got to figure out what’s best. That’s what curators do; they bring their judgment and experience and taste to bear on the  question of what you and I should look at next. And we cannot survive without them.”

We cannot survive without them. Our learners are looking for US to help them sort through the possible resources for learning and point them in the right direction.

Aggregation alone is not helpful. With aggregation – all you’re doing is putting a lot of related “stuff” into one place (unfortunately, that will be familiar to many of us who use shared workspace tools).

Curation is about being picky about what gets captured. It requires the judgement of a knowledgable human – and by wearing a curator hat, we can expand our effectiveness in supporting learning and performance in our organizations.

What do you think? Do you want to sport a curator hat as well?  I have more thoughts on the subject, so stay tuned for additional posts. 


My thinking on curation has been influenced by the following:
> Curation Nation  Book by Steven Rosenbaum published in 2011.
The Trainer as Curator. By Clive Shepherd in the April 2012 edition of T+D magazine. (Accessible using this link if you are a member of ASTD.) 
Who are your curators?  Blog post by Jeff Cobb at Mission to Learn.
Curation: A Core Competency for Learning Professionals. Blog post by David Kelly at The Learning Circuits Blog. March 20, 2012

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