What is a curator of digital microcontent? Or, what we can learn from the big stuffed animals at Wal-Mart.

Microlearning as a term reflects the emerging reality of the ever-increasing fragmentation [emphasis mine] of both information sources and information units used for learning, especially in fast-moving areas which see rapid development and a constantly high degree of change. (Langreiter & Bolka, 2006)

I see the micro thing (small units of rapidly changing user-generated content, consumed by others in a short time period) becoming more fragmented especially within some of the sillier websites out there (one of which I’ll share in a moment). Lucky you!

Maybe *you* already see it everywhere. It started coming together for me in early 2009 in the land of the bizarre thing we know as the Internet.

When I contrast the “micro thing” with what we often do with e-learning – create and cover everythingI see a missed opportunity. I mean *really* if I had a nickel for every “intro” section I’ve seen in a course (some my own) I’d have a shitload of nickels.

Let me try to put this “micro thing” together in a way that’s (hopefully) helpful to you but that won’t make me more than a #4 on your #1-10 insanity evaluation scale.

Example: The People of Wal-Mart

The People of Wal-Mart site started in August 2009 by “three friends and roommates after an inspirational trip to Wal-Mart.” (Dude, we should start a website….dude, holy shit, CapitalOne and BlackBerry want to advertise here. Cool.). I’ve been “inspired” at Wal-Mart too, just not smart enough to turn that inspiration into gold. I was too busy writing and reading intro sections for e-learning courses. You know…pulling together everything someone must know and/or do for their job or a particular part of their job.

The People of Wal-Mart site works like this: people take pictures of other people inside Wal-Mart and submit their “Wal-Creature.” The site owners make funny headings and if you’ve got a really good photo, you can win a $100 gift card. To Wal-Mart. It’s a slice (or pile) of Americana. You either love it (“quite possibly THE BEST THING i’ve ever seen”) or hate it (“the bigotry is astounding…”).

So, it all started with this first post in August 2009…it’s mild compared to some others.

and most recently this…

then “vehicles” kept showing up…the cars in the parking lot at Wal-Mart.

and so, it becomes a spin-off site…a micro aspect of the original. The new site is called You Drive What? Sears advertises there.

You might just see this as a spin-off (The Colbert Report spinning off from The Daily Show) to make a new hit and/or money. But I’m seeing it as more than that.

The People of Wal-Mart is for people. Not vehicles. And, it’d be hard to confirm that a vehicle was, in fact, parked at Wal-Mart. However, rather than ban cars from the site, the site owners see that pictures of wacky vehicles are something people want and they make it into something new. Still sounds like the typical spin-off. However, one of the differences is that the content is not produced. The People of Wal-Mart site owners don’t know what photo they’re going to get today. The first few vehicle pictures that were submitted probably made the site owners pause.

This is what’s happening everywhere. For e-learning types, it’s a struggle. Where does it fit in the instructional design process (if at all)?

The Digital Curation Center began the work of defining the concepts, goals, tasks and research needs associated with a challenging area (“maintaining and adding value to a trusted body of digital information for current and future use.”)

The term digital curation is used in this call for the actions needed to maintain digital research data and other digital materials over their entire life-cycle and over time for current and future generations of users. Implicit in this definition are the processes of digital archiving and preservation but it also includes all the processes needed for good data creation and management, and the capacity to add value to data to generate new sources of information and knowledge. [emphasis mine]

Curation and long-term preservation of digital resources will be of increasing importance for a wide range of activities within research and education. Through sensors, experiments, digitisation and computer simulation, digital resources and data are growing in volume and complexity at a staggering rate. The cost of producing these resources is very high: satellites, particle accelerators, genome sequencing, and large scale digitisation and electronic publishing collectively represent a cumulative investment of billions of pounds in digital research and learning.
Long-term curation and preservation of digital resources is seen as a challenge which is difficult if not impossible for individual institutions to resolve on their own due to the complexity and scale of the challenges involved.

From the DCCs vision statement:

Curation is the active management and appraisal of data [emphasis mine] over the life-cycle of scholarly and scientific interest; it is the key to reproducibility and re-use. This adds value through the provision of context and linkage: placing emphasis on ‘publishing’ data in ways that ease re-use, with implications for metadata and interoperability. Metadata for resource discovery and retrieval are also important, with mark-up on time/place referencing as well as subject description and linkage to discipline-based ontologies. Special emphasis is required on the descriptive information that allows effective re-analysis of datasets of scientific and scholarly significance, and re-use in new and unexpected contexts, e.g. e-Learning or science history. The demands for linkage to two further domains of scholarly communication and e-Learning must also be understood. [emphasis mine]

Clearly The People of Wal-Mart and You Drive What? are not scholarly, “trusted,” instructional, or scientific but the low-brow in sees a new role for those in e-learning. I haven’t done any research here. I’m just thinking out loud. So don’t rely on what I say here – I may be misunderstanding digital curators.

However, going back to the insurance industry I once worked in, what I do see is the “Insurance Policy” community website that focuses on discussions of policies which suddenly includes a lot of hypothetical questions from insurance agents that would work well for learning and the need to create a separate space for that community to flourish. And all the other stuff…easy, meta info, etc. So, rather than trying to figure out everything to include, try to figure out how to help people make sense of what is already there. In a manageable way that ultimately is targeted and less time  consuming.

I dunno. What do you think? What can you add? What do you see?

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