The Value of Content Curation in Education

(This article by Mr Patrick Tay first appeared here on Domain of Singapore Tutoring Experts on 17 December 2013.)

Many years ago, in the seventies, information was scarce and when it came to learning, students, parents, schools and communities dedicated much of their attention to the teachers, who were known in their profession somewhat as the sages of their times. This was sometimes known as the “top-down” approach, whereby information is usually one-way - from the teachers to their students.

This was also a time of conformity and passivity, where recipients took in information wholesale from the senders. This applied not only to the school teaching models, but the massive and influential power of the mass media as well - the most noteworthy being the advertisers. People were told what to learn and what to believe based on authority figures and available information transmitted through the Goggle box.

Fast forward forty years down the road to modern times and you get a different picture, not only in advertising, marketing and business but also, in the field of education (of which much changes can be seen).

This article will focus primarily on changes within the education landscape, with the availability of new technology acting as the backdrop.

With the advent and proliferation of the Internet and Information Communication Technology (ICT), the original modes of teaching and learning have almost been wiped out. Teachers are no longer the sole authorities of education. Just ask a student a question based on one of his or her primary interest (such as the names of every current soccer player in Arsenal, or every characters in the movie “Tangled”), and I am sure that he or she will be able to churn out a great deal of information gleaned online. Pose the same question to any educator or parent and see how many gets all of them right - without online assistance.

In contemporary times, information is no longer scarce. In fact, information is very much in excess. Almost everyone is suffering from information overload. While information was available only to the learners and the privileged in the past, information is now considered cheap. Just google any search terms and the search results will often flood you by the thousands, sometimes millions.

Students now have more than their teachers and their books to give them information. In fact, most will go online for updated news and information rather than sprinting to the libraries. The online channels of information providers for students are now much wider than what any single teacher can provide for their students, most notably being YouTube EDU. There is a reason why encyclopedias have now gone the way of the dodo.

Hence, while the older generations of learners face a challenging time sourcing for information, the current generation of learners face an equally if not more challenging time sifting relevant and pertinent information from the overwhelming sources of information online.

This is where the entire skill set of content curation comes in.

So, what exactly is content curation?

Macmillan Dictionary defined it as the process of analysing and sorting Web Content and presenting it in a meaningful and organised way around a specific theme.

Note that the emphasis is now on online web content, and outside of any references to any textual resource materials. This shift in focus is important as more and more students are now going online for information, much of which can be attributed to the prevalence of instant gratification in contemporary societies. Information sourcing is not exempted. This issue is compounded by the availability of smart phones (where online surfing is possible) and phone applications (such as “Flipboard”, where users are able to sift news not only for themselves, but also for others by creating their own magazines and making them public).

The emergence of news curating websites and news aggregators such as and are signs that content curation is setting the new trend for both learning and news gathering. And of course, one has to accord an equal dose of respect to Google Alerts as the tool which acts as the predecessor to information gathering. Even the term “Mass Media” has to be redefined soon, since they are no longer providing news to the masses as their target audiences get more fragmented and niche over time. Just look at the topics and subtopics in “Flipboard” and I figure you will get my drift.

The term “teacher” is also losing its relevance since “teaching” implies the imparting of knowledge, most of which can now be attained through educational websites and videos. Students can now educate themselves online and offline, often without the presence of their teachers. Such possibilities are getting more popular through the availability of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), some of which are offered by some of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world (which includes Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) through EDX, a collaboration of the two institutes) . Other MOOCs course providers include Coursera and Udacity.

So, does that mean that teachers are becoming obsolete? Absolutely not.

This is because students now face an even greater challenge. How do they sift the relevant information from the rest, and how do they synthesise these information into knowledge as a cohesive whole? The former is the subject of content curation which this article touches on, while the latter is another topic on critical thinking, which is beyond the scope of this article.

The skills of content curation are beneficial to the students since it equips them to become independent and lifelong learners, where they are able to learn things on their own beyond the confines of the classrooms. In fact, content curation reinforces the newly promoted “Flipped Classroom”, a new educational paradigm. Considering that societies are evolving at a never-seen-before pace, content curation is merely a skill set whose time has yet to come.

Certain skill sets are required to master content curation (some of which are not included in current schools’ curriculum), as follows:

● Identifying key search terms

● Media Literacy

● Learning search function (such as the use of double quotes for keywords in search engines etc.)

● Research websites to access (educators are advised to advise students on this)

● Strong knowledge of current and new social media

● Adept at streaming information to users rather than going to the information

● Critical thinking skills

● Speed reading

● Foresight and in-depth thinking

As content curation becomes more critical to students’ learning, online content gets more important than textual resources, due to the following reasons:

Online updates are faster than hard copy publications:

Online news providers are providing updates faster than any print media can manage. Even most newspaper companies are providing online updated news, alongside their hardcopy publications. Coupled with the proliferation of citizen journalism, news consumers are having more updated news than what conventional media is able to offer.

High precision of online news search:

While people in the past look to the goggle box and newspapers for current news, many are now turning to the Internet (using key search terms rather than looking for specific websites) and social media to source for news. With keyword searches, online news are much more precise, and gets updated more frequently. While some argue that credibility and journalistic quality takes a beating when news are provided by laypersons, a single fact still stands: people get accurate news as and when they want it. As to how the news are interpreted, this requires critical thinking skills, one of the skill sets listed above. This also explains why media literacy is vital to one’s judicious and accurate interpretation of any news sources.

Gist preferred over Depth:

News consumers now prefer brief and concise news over in-depth analysis, except for specific news or commentary pieces. Even newspaper companies are coming up with shortened versions of online news for the same hardcopy news reports. This can be explained by the overwhelming amount of available news online, which often leads to one experiencing information overload.

Seen in this light, educators should get on the online platform soonest possible to enable students to learn better. However, this does not render the libraries obsolete since textual resources tend to provide more depth than what most online information are able to offer.

To optimise and reinforce learning for students, it’s best that educators combine both online and offline resources . This is especially important, considering that students’ current research preferences tend to be strongly inclined towards online sources (of which much can be attributed to the fact of the news’ easy availability). Content curation skills are important for both online and textual research. Hence, content curation should form one of the core modules of any curriculum, especially that of tertiary studies, or any other types of higher learning for that matter.

It’s how to enable students to sift and source online information for research and for their own learning, as well as how to strike a balance between online and offline research that remain as challenges for educators in modern times.


About The Author

Patrick Tay is a full- time English Language educator of secondary and tertiary students in Singapore, coaching students for the O Levels, General Paper, as well as various aspects of writings and presentations. He maintains an educational blog at