If curation wasn’t important, college would be solved with a library card

YouTube users upload 500 hours of new video per minute. Ivy League schools allow their courses to be audited for free, and for hundreds of years public libraries have housed so many books that we could never begin to read our way through them. 

With all of this content at our fingertips, why is higher education necessary? 

The answer is that if content was the only thing most people needed to learn, a library card alone would challenge the effectiveness of our current education system. But true education and knowledge expansion is the result of careful curation, of which content is only a part. 

Curation is more than a list of resources. The most effective curriculum is structured specifically to enable learning. Instruction quality, personalization, and teaching methods all make a significant difference to learner success and satisfaction. And at every stage in an educational journey, professors, teachers, and coaches provide needed support and accountability for students. Taken in its entirety, the power of instruction drives outcomes which increase the chance of promotion and career mobility, especially for working adults students that balance unique responsibilities.

Beyond that, a community of learners drives engagement and supports diverse student abilities. In a positive learning environment, students are encouraged to take more academic risks, feel a sense of belonging, and apply themselves to their education rather than take the role of a passive learner. 

There are learners who take their own initiative to learn, and forego the benefits of a learning community. But the primary motivation for the majority of college students is to gain skills and knowledge that increase their value in the workforce. And unfortunately, self-taught education is nearly impossible to introduce into the labor market. Recognition of higher education has stayed traditional and without an institution to certify its validity, knowledge achievement can rarely be  showcased on a resume or presented to hiring employers. Thus, career and economic mobility by way of self-taught education is extremely limited. This signaling is arguably the most impactful consequence of intentional — and effective — curation. 

Of the many elements of curation, including instruction, a community, and diploma, content is important. Millions of students enroll in college not because they can’t access the literature taught in their seminars, but because they need direction on what to access. Without curation, we swim in a sea of content and paddle aimlessly, going nowhere. 

The traditional college student, age 18-22, finds this curation at four-year, on-campus academic institutions. The same opportunity is not available for the millions of working adults who take a less stereotypical path. However, companies can offer this curation to their workers by way of education and upskilling programs. It’s clear that employees crave education: Almost half of workers nationally believe they need additional education to advance their careers. And, 97% of employees say education benefits are an important part of an overall employer benefits package. But — just as important — workers trust their employers to present them with programming which will offer mobility and financial security.

More than government, media, or even NGOs, people trust their employers. Despite trust declining worldwide, business is not only the most trusted institution, but also the only institution seen as both ethical and competent. 

And with great power, comes great responsibility. Employers have the microphone, and employees are eager to listen. In a world where automation, digital technologies, and a global pandemic threatens millions of jobs, employees crave direction in the form of educational opportunities. 

This is especially true for current employees: Workers interested in staying employed with their employer are even more inclined to trust the guided pathways laid out through employer-sponsored education and upskilling.

It’s time we acknowledge that while content is an important component of education and learning, it’s not the only cornerstone. Impactful support structures, curricula designed to serve working adult learners, intentional program selection, and a community of peers drive transformative outcomes. It is at this curated intersection that we find career and economic mobility — and the opportunity to upskill into higher-skill, higher-paying roles, which is nothing short of life-changing. 

Written by Paul Freedman
President, Learning Marketplace

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