in conclusion

Combat Content Overload

Resist the urge to create your own learning content By Kelly Palmer

Kelly Palmer is chief learning officer of Degreed and co-author of “The Expertise Economy: How the Smartest Companies Use Learning to Engage, Compete, and Succeed” with David Blake. She can be reached at


hen employees want to learn something new, where do they turn? In 2016, my company, Degreed, conducted a survey to find out. The responses showed that today’s workers turn first to their peers, bosses or mentors before searching the internet. The last thing they do is consult their learning organization.

This makes intuitive sense. Given the digital landfill bombarding today’s work environments, people know that consulting Google in order to learn something will give them millions of options — and that the top results might not be the best for them. So they instead want guidance from individuals they trust. They want to know how these people learned critical skills.

The recommendations they get in response often point to content that’s publicly available, such as how-to videos, MOOCs, TED Talks, online communities of professionals with similar interests and all sorts of other materials. With recommendations in hand, learners can skip the search and go straight into learning, often at the moment of need.

But when leaders in these same organizations pinpoint skills that they want employees to learn, they often don’t turn first to their own employees who already have those skills and ask for recommendations. Instead, all too often, businesses reflexively decide to order up some new, original content to teach their workforce. Training magazine’s 2017 “Training Industry Report” found that organizations are spending an estimated 28 percent of their L&D budgets on content development, much of it outsourced to content creation agencies.

It’s time for businesses to resist this urge. It’s often unnecessary and wastes time and money.

Today’s workers are overwhelmed with content. According to a January 2017 Chief Learning Officer article, “A Network of Experts: From Content Curation to Insight Curation,” they “gather it, filter it, sort it, categorize it and hoard it all day. They bury themselves with it and then rightfully complain they are overloaded and overwhelmed.” One of the most important solutions to this problem is, quite simply, do not create new content.

Machine curation helps highlight learning options without having to create anything new.

It’s a lesson I learned at an offsite event for a tech company. L&D leaders from across the organization came together to coordinate their content strategies. At one point, they got to talking about how to upskill their workers in project management. That’s when they discovered that the company had 15 different but similar courses created by different learning groups on the same topic. Many people had created original content that lived in content management systems, web servers, learning management systems, and on wikis and individual computers. No one had a view into all the content available.

This company’s problem was not unique. In my years as a CLO, I’ve encountered numerous similar problems at organizations around the world.

Having an integrated learning platform helps solve this problem. When the company aligns in a single learning network and allows employees to post links and rate content, people throughout the organization are able to find curated pathways and recommendations.

In addition to social curation, machine curation helps businesses discover and highlight learning options without having to create anything new. For example, if an employee wants to learn how to deliver better presentations, a learning platform can automatically select and serve up, say, five relevant pieces of content per day based on what it knows about that individual. If that worker consumes the content, he or she gets more recommendations. If not, the technology searches for something else.

Of course, there may be times when creating original content is the way to go. Every organization has some content that is specific to their company and something no one else can create. One example is onboarding content for new hires. Or there may be a unique way you need a piece of technology applied that isn’t covered by something you’d find in a learning library.

So, my recommendation isn’t to never create new learning materials. But those times when you do should be the exception. When business leaders find themselves considering whether to develop original learning content, the default answer should be “no.”