Friday, 24 June 2011

Using Content Curation as part of Performance Support (Part 5 of 5 – the results so far)

This journey into the use of content curation as a performance support tool has only just begun, but the core culture of the internal business communication does appear to be changing.  Both organisations have recognised that our approach has:

·         Reduced staff information overload

·         Significantly reduced internal emails

·         Reduced repetition of information

·         Reduced data storage

·         Captured the “now” knowledge in the business, for the business to share

They have also understood that:

·         Sharing is learning

·         Staff learn well “on the job”

·         Time to learn can be found

·         Bite-sized content works best

And the L&D teams?  Well they are now seen as an “effective resource” and are very glad they decided to come with me on this journey away from formal learning into a more informal approach where performance support is central to the learning strategy.  They now see content curation as part of facilitating learning in the workplace, keeping the learning content fresh, relevant and up to date - constantly.

I don’t know if content curation is going to work in every organisation or if it is really an answer to ambient information overload.  But what I do know is that it has begun to make a significant different to these two organisations learning and communication culture and early evidence is showing it to be an effective performance support tool. 

I have no doubt that it will be superseded by something else in the not too distant future, but for now I will continue to include it in my performance support toolkit.

It would appear that Clay Shirky has since found that content curation is a useful tool too:

“Curation comes up when search stops working.
 But it’s more than a human-powered filter.
Curation comes up when people realize that
it isn’t just about information seeking,
it’s also about synchronizing a community.”

I so agree. JW

Using Content Curation as part of Performance Support (Part 4 of 5 – creating the framework)

The framework is actually very simple:

Categorise – We tag the content using the language of the business.  Tags are useful if staff search the learning sites for content but we also wanted to construct the curated content so that staff could access content by category too. The learning site has category “pages” that staff can access directly as well as searching for content we’ve tagged.

Relevance – We work out which staff will find the information of use.  We don’t do this strictly by job role, we do this more by the skills we expect the individual to have and, most importantly, to be using.

Review Time – We specify (with an icon) how long it will take to review the information.  This has proved to be a hugely valuable thing to do as we promoted this along with a Find 15 campaign (see previous blog post).  So staff can quickly skim over the new content and work out how long it will take them to review the pieces that interest them. 

Shelf life – The information is often very transient so we make it clear (with an icon) when the data will expire.  This makes sure that we keep the content bang up to date, but we don’t delete the data that has expired, we are now moving it to an archive.  How long it will remain archived is not clear yet!

Snippet – many of the staff we are supporting are very pragmatic, so if the curated content link description does not make the value of the content immediately obvious we add on a “What’s in it for me?” snippet to encourage them to click the link.

Communicating the content
The curated content is communicated to the staff on what we call “roundups” which are just a list of links and we issue the roundups on the microblogging services and also via email (although staff can opt out of the email).  A roundup is a bit like a Twitter daily digest that links back to the content on the site, it does not duplicate it.  We don’t send them out unless there is content to share so they are issued when the assigned curator judges the time is right.

When user generated content includes a download from an external site, we download that content and store it on our site.  The staff very quickly realised that we were doing that and it saved them having to do it.  From our overload research, we knew that they would often download stuff and then either forget to read/review it or not be able to find it!  Now they had the comfort of knowing we’d captured it for them – Result!

In one of the organisations we asked a particularly active staff group to work with us and set up a weekly posting called My Learning Week.  On this posting we profile a particular member of staff and they share the user generated content they have found useful in that week.  This really helped to promote the learning site and other staff groups are now doing the same although monthly or quarterly.

We also share learning stories to demonstrate how the performance support tools that we have put in place have worked in practice.  Sharing the successes that the performance support tools have contributed to has really helped us get the message across to the stakeholders as to just how valuable the move to informal learning has been.

Other departments within the organisations have also joined in curating content.  Our curation partners were the sorts of departments who would issues 20-30 emails a day, most of which would be ignored by the staff. When we showed them that there were conversations and information sharing going on on the learning sites (through microblogging and forums in particular) they agreed to try curating their content and issue roundups to relevant staff instead.  The staff are happy because the daily deluge of emails has reduced and the content is part of the learning site which means they have one source of relevant information.  These departments also use our content framework which seems to work for their data too.

Next Blog:  (Part 5 of 5 –  the results so far)

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Using Content Curation as part of Performance Support (Part 3 of 5 – Finding a solution)

So how to you help staff suffering with ambient overload?  I referred to Jane Hart’s most recent book the “Social Learning Handbook” (January 2011 edition) and on page 99 found two nuggets of information:

1)  That L&D could “build a collaborative library of links to useful resources together with others in the organisation, which might also be rated by workers , for usefulness”.

2)  That “L&D professionals will have a big part to play in helping some workers acquire the new skills and literacies for effective working in the modern workplace, eg … to set up appropriate filters to deal with information overload.”

I work quite a bit with the marketing industry and content curation is trending in marketing at the moment so I saw a correlation between what Jane was recommending and what I had been seeing marketers do.  I found this definition of what a content curator does:

“A content curator is someone who continually
finds, groups, organizes and shares
the best and most relevant content
on a specific issue online.”  (Rohit Bhargava)

I wondered what would happen if we started to curate the user generated content from the learning sites, categorising it, directing it at relevant staff groups, collecting it together for the staff, so that they knew it was being captured for them in a way that would allow them to catch up easily and “stay in the loop” even if they weren’t able to do it in real time, all the time.  In addition, I realised that by doing this we could link the user generated content to the business by aligning it with the business goals, initiatives and current focus as well as fold it into the formal training programmes that L&D were delivering.

The first thing I did was set up a “Listening Service”.  In marketing, companies “listen” to social media to find out what people are saying about their brand.  We “listened” to identify content that others could learn from and core business themes as well as identify which staff groups the content was relevant to.

Next we assigned members of the L&D team to curate different themes based on their particular focus and expertise. 

Once we got going we realised that we needed some sort of framework to put the content into so that it was easy to use, search and communicate.  We wanted to curate the content to make it attract the staff back to the learning sites and to help with their overload. 

Next Blog:  (Part 4 of 5 – creating the framework)

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Using Content Curation as part of Performance Support (Part 2 of 5 – making it worse!)

To try and understand how we could help the staff suffering from Information Overload we did some research and came across Clay Shirky (author of “Here comes everybody”) who states “It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure”.  When we looked at the ways in which the staff were interacting with the digital content we realised they were not great at using RSS, tags or even search engines to filter content. To help, we ran webinars, produced quick reference guides and did face to face coaching sessions to try and improve their personal searching for, and filtering of, the information they were attempting to stay on top of.

The result of these activities to increase staff skills with searching and filtering caused more of them to complain of information overload and increased the disengagement with the learning sites.  Argh!

I decided I strongly disagreed with Clay Shirky!  But I found Nicolas Carr the author of the book “What the internet is doing to our brains”.  Carr states that good filtering makes a significant contribution to people’s sense of information overload: “It’s not information overload, it’s filter success”. This made sense to me – I certainly had the evidence for that statement!

Carr identifies two types of information overload:

Situation overload:  “searching for needle in a haystack of information”.  In other words, trying to find a particular piece of information as quickly as possible from a lot of other information.   Imagine going into a library full of books and finding no shelves, no Dewey Decimal system, no librarian, just a pile of books on the floor.  Where do you start to find the information you want?  That’s how finding information on the internet can be if you don’t have good searching and filtering skills.   As Carr points out, search engines and filters help us find web-based information in this situation as do the human powered filters such as Twitter and email if we are connected to the right people.   

But we’d improved the searching and filtering skills of the staff so this was not the overload problem they were suffering from.  It was:

Ambient overload: “a haystack-sized pile of needles (information)”.   What Carr is trying to say here is that we can become surrounded by so much information that is of interest to us that we can feel overwhelmed by the never ending pressure to keep up with it all, take it all in, make sense of it, and harness it.  Carr points out that when our filters work well we get more of the stuff we LIKE and we WANT. 

So the staff were now getting more information that they wanted.  The problem was that the information wasn’t necessarily coming through when the staff wanted it or when they had time for it, so they worried that if they were not in the loop they might miss something vital. 
Next blog:  (Part 3 of 5 - Finding a solution)

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Using Content Curation as part of Performance Support (Part 1 of 5 – uncovering the problem)

Following on from the LSG conference (14/06/11) I hope this and the following four blogs, explain how I have been using content curation to curate user generated content in a way that has been positively received by two organisations I’ve been working with:

We provided a wide range of communication and sharing technology through the organisations “learning sites” such as microblogging, forums, wikis, and a version of the Peter Butler BT Dare to Share model which allowed staff to share their knowledge using a wide range of media (eg podcasts, screencasts, slideshows etc).

Take up was good particularly with some staff sectors, and so we believed that everything would continue to go well, but four months in, staff started to report feeling overloaded and that trying to keep up with all that was being shared was having a detrimental effect on their ability to complete their work.  The upshot was that even though they valued the information that was being shared they started to disengage with the learning sites because the felt that staying “in the loop” was too distracting.

We quickly engaged with the staff to find out why this was happening.  The key findings were:

Too much information coming in …  Information was coming at the staff from all directions, not just from our learning site but from their own personal knowledge networks, Linked In, Twitter, blogs etc and of course the omnipresent emails which included white papers, webinar invites etc.

Too many information sources to look at … Staff felt that every day it seemed as if there was yet another new site that they really, really must explore or join or sign up to. 

Information duplicated multiple times … Staff complained that the same information would turn up repeatedly but under different headlines so that they thought it was new and relevant to them and then they’d discover they had already seen it.

Difficulty in separating the relevant, quality information from the junk … Staff felt that they needed help to sort out what was relevant and trustworthy and what was not.

Time … staff felt that staying in the loop was taking up too much of their time.  This was the biggest gripe of all.

By setting up a successful and active learning community we had added an additional layer of information that was causing some of the staff to suffer from Information Overload.
Next Blog (2 of 5) ...Making it worse!

Friday, 17 June 2011

Find 15

During my session at the LSG Conference on Tuesday this week (14/6/11), I talked briefly about the Find 15 campaigns that I've run successfully with many of my clients.  As lots of people asked for more information on how Find 15 works I hope this answers some of the questions:

The proposition for Find 15 is that if staff argue that they don't have the time to take advantage of the learning opportunities that are available to them, challenge them to find 15 minutes each day to devote to their own learning.  If they want skills development; that promotion; a bigger bonus; to keep their job (if under redundancy threat) [insert your own reasons here] ask them what they are actively doing to acheive that particular goal?

You see, fifteen minutes is not long.  You can lose 15 minutes by engaging in corridor or kitchen (drink making) conversations in the office.  But in 15 minutes of concentrated focus, they could - watch a video; listen to a podcast; read something; write something; reflect on an event; contribute to a forum; take a short e-learning module etc.  And, if they get into the habit of doing it every day that becomes 75 minutes a week of personal development.  Of course if you are the L&D person anything you can do to make short learning opportunites available will help tremendously.

To make this work, engage with the line managers and ask them if they would really notice if 15 minutes was deducted from the working day?  In many cases they wouldn't.  So when you point out that the personal development gained will hopefully benefit them, their team, their business, it's difficult for them to refuse to give it a go.  If you work with them to help them direct their staff to use the 15 minutes wisely - all the better.

In some organisations, I've asked staff to track their Find 15 each week and keep a log of what they used the time for and later to reflect on what the impact was from each 15 minute investment. 

In a couple of my clients it has become so much part of their culture that even on formal training courses Find 15 is a part of the formal learning day as the formal delivery stops so that staff can do their Find 15 even though they are in a formal learning setting.

Since instigating Find 15 for the first time (7 years ago) it's now a practice that is part of my life and as natural to me as brushing my teeth in the morning.  It's truly amazing what you can learn with a regular short investment in your own skills.

In large corporates I've run Find 15 marketing campaigns to raise awareness of the idea and encourage staff (and their line managers) to participate.  However, one of the best ways of getting this adopted is just to simply talk about it. 

Find 15 - It's simple to do, it's not time or cost hungry and it's personal.  If staff/line managers want development but don't want the cost/time of a formal course, try Find 15 - they just might discover for themselves the benefits of informal learning.

Why not try it yourself for a week?  Afterall, when did you last really put time aside to invest in YOU?

Monday, 13 June 2011

I'm still here, I've just been busy - but now I'm ready to share ...

I took a break from blogging at Christmas and kept meaning to get started again but somehow other things always seemed to keep me from actually posting anything.

So what I have I been up to?  Well the most important thing I've been doing is developing a way of using Content Curation as part of Performance Support. 

Tomorrow (Tuesday 14th June 2011) I'll be sharing the model I've developed at the Learning and Skills Group Conference at Olympia.  Then over the next few weeks I'll share what I've been doing here to successfully use content curation as part of facilitiating informal/social learning.

The single most important lesson I've learned in all this is that theories such as the 70:20:10 model, social learning and informal learning are great, but the reality of making them work is another matter.  It takes time, patience, trust and a very flexible approach to really get these theories into operational practice.

So, I've resurfaced, battle-scarred, but delighted to be finally starting to see the promise of these theories materialising.

Onward ...!