Four very different ways you can use Curatr

Curious about what you can do with Curatr? Look no further!

I recently attended the HT2 Curatr user group meeting at their secret headquarters hidden away in the Oxfordshire countryside. It was an inspiring experience because like most digital learning tools – you rarely get to see how your peers are using them in the field. (check out the official blog post for full details after this one!)

Ben Betts kicked off the day by reminding us of some early versions of Curatr, then we started sharing our experiences of using the platform. As I waited for my turn, it dawned on me that as my career in digital learning has evolved, so have the ways I use Curatr. Inspired by that session, I thought I’d share a summary which might offer some insight into how you can use Curatr in your organisation, whether you work in-house or sell training services.

1. Internal training teams

Small courses

When I first started using Curatr, courses were called museums and content was arranged in circles. It was pretty wacky, but also quite charming. As an in-house e-learning specialist at a medium-sized financial services firm, it was a breath of fresh air from fighting with Captivate and building compliance training nobody cared about.

I managed to convince my boss to let me buy a few licenses and build some courses. We started with a couple of soft skills favourites – Presentations skills and Productivity. We curated all of the content and quickly built two blended programmes that mixed Curatr content, reflection, bi-weekly webinars, assignments and live sessions on presentation skills. Both courses were relatively successful and we learned a lot about the strengths and challenges of using this new approach.

What did we learn?

We took three things from this – themes that will repeat themselves in all the other use cases below:

  1. Facilitation matters – the better you facilitate the experience the longer people will stay engaged, the more they will contribute and the better the quality of conversations. HT2 have data to back this up too.
  2. Blending Curatr with different media works well
  3. Curatr is a very natural way to translate a classroom experience to an online experience

That last point is one of the unsung strengths of Curatr and why people get the hang of it so quickly. When you frame it like that it’s also much easier to sell the idea internally – it’s like classroom training without the travel and without the days out of the office. You can spend relatively small amounts of time/money on the content and still inspire change. When you get it right, Curatr is the closest way of re-creating the classroom experience in a digital tool. Like good classroom training, the value and learning come from the discussions and reflections – not the slickness of your PowerPoint deck. Sadly our Curatr adventures were cut short by “a change of strategy”, but if we had continued we were planning to use it for:

  • Campaign based learning
  • More soft skills
  • More engaging internal communications
  • Longer learning programmes

In fact, a few years later it did make a comeback and was used to support some new manager programmes.

2. MOOCs

Scaling up your courses

Thankfully, HT2 soon asked Martin Couzins and I to help them build some courses for the L&D community. At the time we called them MOOCs – somewhat sheepishly, as the numbers were never going to threaten Coursera and co, but they were successful none the less.

Whatever happened to MOOCs?

That depends on who you talk to. They are still evolving and still going strong in many ways. Did they deliver on their promise to revolutionise and democratise education across the globe? Probably not, but they are still meeting the needs of a lot of people. If you choose to judge them by completion rates you’ll be disappointed. I have no interest in opening that debate up. All I want to do is highlight that Curatr is a great platform for running large-scale courses and getting people talking.

For a more detailed story of our experience on MOOCs you can watch out presentation at the 2015 Learning Technologies Conference below

We ran four open online courses, the first of which got us shortlisted for a social and collaborative award at the e-Learning awards a few years back. They ranged from 150-750 participants and while they did have set start and end dates, we often left them open for people to explore, reference and participate months later.

Our focus wasn’t on completion rates, it was about creating great experiences for a wide range of people and creating a bit of buzz about the platform. Working outside the corporate umbrella meant we could indulge our curiosity a little more than usual. We were free to experiment and as a result, we came up with some reusable models.

The Three C’s

This was a guiding principle that steered our choices of what to include and how to frame it.

  1. Content
  2. Conversation
  3. Connection

Content is designed/selected to spark conversations which develop connections between the people on the course and the ideas you’re exploring.

The second model is less catchy. In fact, it’s more of an approach than a model. It was about using multiple channels to amplify what we were doing and attract more people. One of the objectives of this project was to help spread the word about the Curatr platform. We’re not talking hard sales, it was more of an experiential marketing approach.

Curatr is one of those good ideas that can be hard to explain, it’s much easier to show people what it’s like. That’s one reason why HT2 still run these open courses. The other reason is that they use it to test out new features. So either way, the more people we could attract the better. But as it turns out this approach has benefits for the participants too.

Here’s what we did to amplify the course and the benefits that brought:

  • Dedicated Twitter hashtag – extended the conversations beyond the content
  • Weekly Twitter chats – developed conversations further and encouraged people outside the course community to contribute to the discussions
  • Weekly Google Hangouts – panel discussions about topics within the course
  • Weekly blogs summarising the conversations in the course and key themes – helped to distill and curate they best bits
  • Lists of the content on List.ly – people could access the content easily afterwards

You might be thinking “that sounds like a lot of work” and you’d be right, it was! But this approach is still an excellent blueprint for all sorts of possible use cases:

  • membership organisations who want to run less formal, more social learning experiences for their members
  • sales training for affiliate and distribution partners
  • change management programme

3. Training providers

Selling Curatr experiences

When I left corporate life a few years ago I found myself working for a small training provider who specialised in training for recruitment agencies. We used Curatr to deliver leadership development training. Our first project was an in-house programme for a growing company.

We had agreed some rather challenging deadlines so we needed a way to build the course quickly. This is where the 3C’s model came into its own. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to something like leadership development. It’s ideal for curation. Once we’d agreed on a structure for the 8-week course we set to curating the content that we needed to spark the conversations that the client wanted to encourage.

80% of the content was curated from the web, the remainder was made up of homemade short videos to introduce the topics, add organisational context and share challenges. Despite the seat of our pants nature of the course, it worked fantastically well, largely because of the attitudes of the senior leaders in the organisation:

  • they were highly engaged in setting the agenda
  • they role modelled behaviour, answering thoughtfully and honestly, sharing lots of relevant experiences in a candid authentic way
  • they used the data we provided each week to encourage their direct reports to keep pace with the programme (completion rates were over 80%)
  • they used the course as an opportunity to discuss an emerging strategy with the wider leadership team

This was another blended approach

Each week we opened up a new level which was supported by an end of week group call to reflect and highlight specific aspects of the content. There were also face to face sessions at the beginning and end of the course. This served to kickstart and set the tone and to celebrate success at the end.

Our next Curatr project followed a different path

It was still leadership training for recruitment agencies, but this time it was an open course featuring small groups of managers from four different firms. We followed a similar format of bi-weekly webinars, Curatr content, activities and also monthly coaching sessions. But there were two major differences this time. Firstly, with four different groups, it was much harder to coordinate everything. We struggled to build the same momentum and when we did get things going it was difficult to maintain. Despite sharing the same data as the previous course with line managers, this time they didn’t buy into the program in quite the same way. It just goes to show what a huge impact line managers can make when it comes to realising the benefits of investing in training. The other major difference was the content. Although we covered the same broad topics we made it much more tailored to recruitment. So, this time the ratio between curated and created content was flipped – 80% was created from scratch and 20% curated. That put a lot of pressure on us because we’d mapped out the program for the next six months and when we started, we’d only built the first four weeks.

It felt like we were laying railway track as the train was coming round the corner behind us. A feeling that went on for months and not one I would ever recommend repeating. This was a good example of how not to be agile!

Silver linings and all that

Despite the tough nature of this gig, I learned a lot and I discovered a tool which saved my bacon back then and continues to be my go-to choice for authoring online content – Evolve Authoring. Evolve is a true HTML5 authoring tool which means it’s responsive, simple to use and it looks fantastic in Curatr. I’ll go into detail on why you should use Evolve in Curatr in a future post, but here are three reasons for starters:

  1. Like Curatr it’s responsive – so when you resize Curatr, it adapts to the screen size too.
  2. It’s easy to match your Curatr theme to your Evolve theme, so all your content looks seamless and professional.
  3. I’ve never used a faster more reliable authoring tool in my 12+ years of designing online training.

4. Independent consultant

Interpreting ideas

In July 2016 I struck out on my own and set up Transform Elearning. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of working with several Curatr clients helping them get their projects off the ground. Amongst those projects, we’ve worked closely with Sarah Frame of Green Onyx to build five Curatr courses for the Velocity program – a personal development programme aimed at helping women develop their careers – you can read more about it on the Curatr site. Other client work has ranged from the simple production of bespoke content (using Evolve) to the reimagining of a six-month global leadership development program.

We’re always excited to meet new potential clients and hear their vision for new learning experiences.

 

Final thoughts

Curatr is a simple tool with many applications. It has changed a lot since I first started using it, but the practices that get the best out of it remain the same:

  1. It works best when you use it for what it was designed to do – structured social learning experiences. It’s not an authoring tool, it’s not an enterprise social network, it’s not a learning management system.
  2. Put the effort in to facilitate the conversation, a lot of people are nervous about sharing their thoughts and ideas at work, it makes them feel vulnerable. Welcome people to the platform, make sure they understand the expectations.
  3. Use it as part of a blended programme – mix it up with webinars, coaching, facilitated meetings, assignments, social media groups etc.
  4. Curate with pride – don’t feel you have to create something from scratch if you can find it online. It’s the conversation and reflection on the content that leads to change and learning.

With an open mind and some creative thinking, you can use it for just about any training need you can imagine.

If you need some help with that, you know where we are.