In previous posts, we explored understanding the customer’s perspective, how to jump start you project, what you should know about designing a course, and how to build a project plan. Today, we’ll take a look at working with subject matter experts.
Subject matter experts (SME) play a key role in the development of your elearning courses. They help you craft the learning objectives, create content, review it for accuracy, and provide valuable feedback.
At a recent elearning conference I attended, the participants were asked what some of the biggest challenges were to developing their courses. Well over half said that working with SME was a challenge and many times interfered with getting the projects done on time.
Today, we’ll look at some tips to help you manage the relationship with your project’s subject matter experts.
On a Clear Day You Can See Forever
Clear communication is central to your project success. What we say and what we mean are not always the same. To complicate matters, what people hear us say, is not always what we want them to hear.
It is important to establish very clear objectives and expectations when working with others, especially SME who are rarely trained instructional designers.
Bring them in on the projects early. Stay on top of project milestones and make sure you are proactive in communicating with the SME. Be sensitive to their workloads. If you expect some feedback from the SME, make sure you explain what you need and when you need it.
The “S” Stands for Subject…Not Slave
Everyone is busy. Do not abuse the time you have with the SME. Prepare for your meetings and information gathering. Collect as much information as you can prior to meeting with your SME. This helps you build a context for the elearning course. It also helps you understand the subject matter expert’s world. And, it shows the SME that you are interested in the subject and what he has to offer.
Provide a Quick Overview of How People Learn
People have preconceived ideas about training and learning. Don’t assume that when you start talking about elearning that the SME understands what you mean. It is a good idea to develop a quick elevator pitch about learning and how you’d like to see the course work.
This gives the SME some additional information and context for the project goals. It also allows them to brainstorm ideas on how to create a meaningful learning environment using what they know.
The key is to do this quickly. Don’t bore them with long lectures on learning theory. The idea is to help them know what you need to do with their expertise to create a good learning environment.
There’s a Reason You Have Two Ears & One Mouth
Be a good listener and learn from your SME. Active listening is a sign of respect. If your SME knows that you are truly interested in her input you’ll win an ally.
Ask good questions. After using your two ears, make sure you use your one mouth to ask the right questions. The SME time is valuable. Thinking through the right questions will help you make the most of it. Come prepared with a list of questions. You cannot go wrong with the standard “Who, what, where, when, and why?”
Keep the Subject Matter Expert in the Real World
You want to capture the SME experience and balance it with the world of the novice. SME are experts and typically model the course outcome. However, their expertise can hinder designing the best elearning environment since it can be complicated for new learners.
Sometimes less is more. Try to keep the SME in the real world. To help drill down to the essential information, give them strict parameters. For example, “if you only had three screens to share your expertise, what would those three screens contain?”
Another way to keep the SME in the real world is to balance their expertise with the input of a recent or new learner.
Use a Simple Template to Help the Subject Matter Expert
If you find that you have limited access to the SME, then it’s a good idea to create a template for them. Use a basic training outline that covers the core objectives and asks questions that helps them share their expertise. Also ask how a new learner can practice using the information in the course and in the real work environment.
Show Them Love
People like to be encouraged and affirmed. Here’s a tip that has always worked for me. As a habit, I try to give good feedback to the people I work with. In addition, I will drop a quick email to their managers extolling the value of the SME input and how it is greatly appreciated and a service to the organization.
This not only serves you well on the project, it will pay dividends later if you need more of their time.
Subject matter experts have valuable insight and you need it.
A large part of your elearning course’s success depends on the relationship you have with your subject matter experts. The actions you take show them that you value them and what they have to offer. The better relationship you have with them, the better success you’ll have.
What are some of the things you do to get the most of out of your subject matter experts?
Our next post will look at multimedia and what you need to know.
Upcoming E-Learning Workshops & Events (2015)
- September 23 & 24 (Vancouver). Community-based elearning workshops focused on practical tips & tricks. You can register for one day or two days. To learn more & register, click here.
- September 29 (Las Vegas). Want to learn to get the right look and feel for your courses? Join David Anderson and me for a fun and active hands-on workshop. This topic is by far one of the most popular of the ones we've covered in any of our workshops in the past.
- September 30 (Las Vegas). Going to Devlearn? Swing by the Articulate booth and say hello.
- October 28 & 29 (Philadelphia). Community-based elearning workshops focused on practical tips & tricks. You can register for one day or two days. To learn more and register, click here.
- November: Just added! I'll be in London, Dublin, Berlin, Paris, Belgium, and Utrecht. Details coming soon.
Free E-learning Resources
Want to learn more? Check out these articles and free resources in the community.
Here’s a great job board for elearning, instructional design, and training jobs
Participate in the weekly elearning challenges to sharpen your skills
Lots of cool elearning examples to check out and find inspiration.