Tuesday, September 1

Working with Subject Matter Experts

I want to thank Jeff Goldman - Minute Bio for his great response last month. He suggested that we focus the Big Question on specific issues and then suggested four questions.

So, let's start with his first suggestion:
Working effectively with subject matter experts
There's a lot to this topic, and certainly it's an on-going challenge. Some specific questions that are raised in this area:
  • What should all IDs know about working with a SME?
  • What can you and can't you expect a SME to do?
  • Does it work to have SMEs create rapid eLearning?
  • How does social and informal learning impact how you engage with SMEs?
  • What's your favorite instructive story of working with a SME?
I've seen a few good posts in the recent past on this topic. Feel free to include prior posts or resources you know about in your response.

How to Respond:

Option 1 - Put your thoughts in a comment below. Likely there can be some pretty good thoughts left via a comment.

Option 2 -

Step 1 - Post in your blog (please link to this post).
Step 2 - Put a comment in this blog with an HTML ready link that I can simply copy and paste (an HTML anchor tag). I will only copy and past, thus, I would also recommend you include your NAME immediately before your link. So, it should look like:

Tony Karrer - e-Learning 2.0

or you could also include your blog name with something like:

Tony Karrer - e-Learning 2.0 : eLearningTechnology

Responses So Far:


Jon Aleckson said...

Find my tips on handling subject matter experts at my Managing eLearning blog:

Jeff Goldman said...

Thank you for using my suggestion as this month's Big Question.
MinuteBio's Response to September's Big Question

Sreya Dutta said...

Hi Tony,

I'd like to suggest 2 of my older posts as both have some answers to questions you raise. The first one is quite generic:
The Role of IDs Vs SMEs
The 2nd one is:
Challenges and solutions to technical software product training: Gathering Information

The only thing is a lot of my focus is on technical software products as that has been my primary focus area in recent times. I hope the information will be useful to many.


Archana Narayan said...

I had blogged about this earlier. Sharing the link: How Important is the SME?

Given below are my responses to the other questions:

Does it work to have SMEs create rapid eLearning?
Most SMEs (and almost every other non-ID) thinks it is fairly simple to design instruction and storyboard. But, in reality instructional design involves a lot more. Instructional design is about effective teaching. Teaching can be effective only when you have the learner and their realities in mind. In my experience, very few SMEs see the design from the learner's perspective. SMEs design based on their experiences, while IDs based on the learner's experiences. SMEs tend to generalize situations. Have you ever heard a SME say let's make this more interesting? Or lets make this more practical than theoretical?

Therefore, my answer is no. It does not work to have SMEs create rapid eLearning. Unless the SME thinks like an ID, I do not think the product will be an effective one.

What's your favorite instructive story of working with a SME?
The SME shared a really huge content dump. The content was highly theoretical and the learner profile demanded practical examples. I started searching the Internet for examples which I could use to simply the content. I requested the SME to share links to informative sites if he happened to come across them. The SME responded by saying 'I have given you pages of information, all you need to do now is present it in a 'learnable' format.' If only my work was that easy! The content dump was incredibly useful for me as an ID to grasp the content and identify the instructional flow. But, I had to translate the theory into practical examples that the learner can relate to.

Guy W. Wallace said...

Guy W. Wallace - Pursuing Performance http://pursuingperformanceblog.blogspot.com/2009/09/blog-post.html

My thoughts.


Kim Worthy said...

I've posted my thoughts on Subject Matter Experts and Instructional Designers working together on my Steppling onto the eLearning Path blog: http://elearningpath.blogspot.com/2009/09/subject-matter-expertssme-instructional.html

gminks said...

From Adventures in Corporate Education

V Yonkers said...

This is perhaps a different perspective as I have been both a SME and ID (more the former than the later, and always also the SME when I did Instructional Design)

sirvan said...

@Guy W. Wallace

aside from this post, thanks also for sharing...

Benjamin Hamilton said...

Ben Hamilton LDPI - September Big Question

Julie Dirksen said...

Here's an Instructional Design WebComic on working with SMEs on content:



Taruna Goel said...

Hey Tony, I had written a blog to share my views on how we can collaborate with SMEs and make them a partner in training. Catch the post here.

Vic Uzumeri said...

Great question. It inspired me to write an article that I have wanted to write for some time:

Vic Uzumeri - Macro SMEconomics 101

ClaudiaE said...

Claudia Escribano: Working with SMEs

Alducate said...

I have only been designing for a short time; however, in my limited experience the most important thing that I have found about SMEs is below.

One of the first things that I learned about working with SMEs is that you want them to understand why they have been selected beyond “You are the subject matter expert”; what type of time commitment is being asked of them; and what they will be doing (the process of design that will be used).
You cannot expect the SME to design the training. By this I mean, the ID has to drive the process. This takes questioning and cajoling, herding and sequestering SMEs as needed to get the initial information to answer the questions to meet the learning objectives.

SMEs are usually super knowledgeable about their area of expertise. I have found that being such experts a SME finds difficulty in ensuring all aspects of the subject matter is conveyed in the learning. For example, an experienced Chef can create excellent dishes; however, it does not mean that they can teach someone else to create the same dish. They can provide a recipe, but even the best cook may not be able to follow the nuances needed to recreate the dish without ensuring all the nuances are incorporated in the recipe.
Of course a recipe can be recreated, but it may not taste the same without all of the information.

It is the ID’s role to ensure all necessary information to understand how to recreate the recipe is included in the learning—particularly eLearning where the learning is more self-directed and the asking of questions can be limited.
When extracting and organizing information from SMEs, the thought and design process has to include an eye to whether or not the information can be used with social and informal learning; and if so, how. It does not change the way a SME is engaged.

My favorite story was when working with a SME who was tapped to work with others on a project that had to include not only their expertise, but others. It took a great deal of energy and firm discussions to keep the one from overwhelming the process and making the entire project about their expertise. It made the process longer, more draining, but the end result was enough information to move to the next steps of the project, so the expending the energy was worth it.