Curatr is our Social learning platform and it specializes in getting people talking.

 

Using content curated from around your organisation or the wider web, Curatr allows course designers to challenge learners to take part in conversations and contribute back to the learning environment with content of their own devising.

 

Curatr has been tremendously successful in gaining participation from learners – half a million user contributions were made last year. This active-style of learning – where people actually contribute back to the platform as well as consuming content, has led to excellent results.

 

Curatr clients took home 4 awards at this years Learning Technology Awards, not only because they got people talking, but because they could then evidence the difference this was making back in the workplace.

 

As more organisations click on to the idea of taking a more social approach to digital learning, so we get more requests from potential users of our software to fill out feature check-lists that come alongside a Request For Proposal (RFP).

 

One thing that always comes up, and we say no to, is the requirement for a discussion forum.

 

This seems like a bit on an odd omission; we are a social learning platform but we don’t have a discussion forum? The next question that tends to come is, could we build in a discussion forum? Unfortunately, my answer is still a no…

 

Here’s my 3 reasons why Curatr doesn’t have a discussion forum (and never will):

 

1. Because Curatr is a method, as well as a tool

 

Curatr isn’t like a normal Learning Management System (LMS). Curatr embodies a method, a way of teaching and learning, that you have to use in order to really ‘get’ Curatr.

For some people this is brilliant, as it matches with their opinions on online learning. The Curatr method suggests that online learning should be an active, social process in which content acts as the trigger, but not the actual learning moment.

 

For some organisations that want a system to primarily deliver content, this is a poor fit. A standard LMS could be good here; a high degree of focus on the content, with a minor in social.

 

For others that are in the marketplace for a communication tool, this doesn’t fit either. Here content is a by-product of conversation; attachments in instant messages, for example.

 

Most collaboration tools trade-off the content and the social; you end up with something that isn’t quite as efficient as an LMS to deliver content and isn’t as social as a messaging tool.

 

Curatr’s method aims to break the ‘frontier’ between these points and redefine what is possible in a content plus social environment. The catch is that, for this to work, you have to adopt our method. We build opinionated software; ‘it’s our way, or it won’t do’ – as we say.

 

Initially, Curatr was developed to solve the problem of participation in online social learning. We know that learning with peers in a work environment can be a fundamental part of the learning process. But getting people to actually participate, especially in an online environment, has often proved a barrier.

 

Empty forums are an all too common occurrence in Learning Management Systems. Curatr eliminates the participation problem and allows businesses to focus on outcomes and performance.

 

Using our unique approach to social learning, subject matter experts can create a ‘social layer’ on top of existing content, encouraging learners to participate through gamification. Participation happens in Curatr by design, not by accident.

 

As such, simply creating a discussion forum that sits somewhere ‘on the side’ of the core learning experience is the antithesis of what we are trying to do. Curatr works because social is woven into the fabric of every interaction.

 

To suggest that all ‘social’ platforms are the same, just because they give learners an opportunity to pass the occasional comment, is not a fair comparison.

 

2. Because we actually did build a discussion forum, once upon a time…

 

Having said all of the above, we actually did ship with not one, but two forms of discussion forum in the past. First we created an area for ‘group discussions’ to happen.

 

These took place outside the context of a course, giving a place for group work. They were very poorly used, and the organisations who requested them didn’t have the manpower to support them.

 

We also made a ‘live chat’ style discussion board that sat on the side of each course. This was cool as heck – it did a slack-style asynchronous / synchronous style of communication.

 

But, again, it wasn’t well used. Because it took people out of their ‘flow’ and wasn’t really part of the design of a course, learners weren’t sure what to do with it.

 

And the live chat only really comes alive when it’s a synchronous event – and learners like Curatr because they can dip in and out at any time that suits them.

 

3. Because there is scant evidence that a discussion forum returns value in a corporate learning environment.

 

You don’t see many case studies of award winning discussion boards being used in corporate learning. We’ve won in the ‘Social and Collaborative Learning’ category at the Learning Technology awards every year since 2015 and we never once showed the judges a discussion board.

 

How come? Well, discussion boards in corporate learning environments are prone to failure. Because they aren’t the primary messaging or collaboration tool used in the organisation (see earlier diagram), they rank a poor relation to the tools that your learners already have at their hands to talk with each other.

 

That means that you’ll have to force people to use the discussion boards in some way – Curatr kinda does this, as you cannot use Curatr without utilising the social features of the product. But with that need to force participation, comes the need structure, scaffolding and support.

 

There is actually a whole area of Digital Learning academia dedicated to the use of discussion-type forums in online education – Computer Support Collaborative Learning (CSCL). Countless CSCL studies have focussed on the best ways to shape conversations in discussion forums in order to foster higher-level thinking.

 

It is a reasonably complex affair and, whilst consensus is hard to come by, most-all CSCL practitioners would say one thing is always required; a teacher. Without a real person designing discussion questions, moderating and facilitating conversation, very little happens.

 

This is not a simple or quick job and as such it is often overlooked in the corporate space as a luxury that the business can ill-afford. Curatr is designed to take this workload away, but we still have evidence that a light-touch moderator helps Curatr outcomes (and the Curatr learning experience still needs designing in the first place).

 

If you are looking at deploying a social learning solution in your organisation, you need to go beyond checking the feature list. How these platforms actually shape conversation, how social interaction can be designed using the tool, is far more important than the function itself.

 

Head to our Learning Library and join one of Curatr’s free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to experience the Curatr method for yourself; along with a free 30-day trial of our software to design your first truly social learning experience.

 

 

 

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