Subject matter experts know their subject matter. That’s why they’re called experts. But they don’t always know how best to teach what they know, especially when it comes to elearning.
Subject matter experts offer a lot of value when it comes to building your elearning courses. They have invested lots of time in developing their expertise so they’re able to touch on nuances that go beyond just information. This can be critical in your course design.
However, there are some challenges when working with experts. Often they’re so far removed from the learning process and where a new person is that they lose perspective on what is most essential to learning new skills. Trying to get the right information and structure for your course can prove difficult.
I find that many of them consider all of the information critical. I’ve worked on projects where it was almost impossible to get the subject matter expert to concede anything. This can be both frustrating and time-consuming. There were times I wished I had an elearning mediator who could talk to the subject matter expert in a way I couldn’t.
Here Are Three Things Every Subject Matter Expert Should Know
If I did have a mediator who could intercede, this is what I wish they could convey:
- People don’t care about what you know as much as you do. I know this sounds harsh but it’s just the way it is. What people care about is learning what they need to learn to meet their goals. If you have something to offer that’s good; but it’s really just part of a pool of information and experiences that they encounter. So what you know has value, but only as it matters to them.
- New learners don’t need to know everything you know. Your expertise comes from years of experience. You didn’t just read a manual and become an expert. You had a lot of opportunity both formal and informal to develop your expertise. Keep that in mind when working with new learners.
- Your actions speak so loud I can hardly hear you. My boss used to say that to me all the time when I talked about what I knew. She was less concerned about my talking and more on my doing. This could also be applied to elearning and subject matter experts. Instead of telling me what the new learners should know, tell me what actions they should be able to do. Then we can set a plan around actionable goals.
Working with Your Subject Matter Experts
Sometimes my wife accuses me of giving her long answers to simple questions. She always tells me, “I ask what time it is and you begin to tell me how to build a clock.” I only do this because if something should ever happen to me, I’d like her to be able to build a clock so she’s always know what time it is.
There’s a lot of truth to what she says. I find that I like to pad my answer around context. So instead of giving a simple answer I ramble on offering all sorts of contextual nuance. And that tends to be a problem common to working with subject matter experts. Their experience isn’t based on black and white solutions. Instead they’re nuanced based on variables that they’ve learned to master over the years.
Context is important to an expert. But it’s not always relevant to a new learner. Our job is to expose the critical information but work around some of the context that a new learner might not easily understand.
Here are a few tips when working with subject matter experts to build elearning courses. I’ve also included links to previous posts that may help.
Create courses that are learner-centric. Instead of focusing on the information, focus on how the learner will use the information. This helps build the context that is so critical to gaining expertise.
- Get to know your learners to build the best course possible.
- 5 instruction design tips.
- What do your learners want to do?
Focus on action. Going with the point above, figure out how the learners will use the information. Then frame the course around that. There are simple ways to do so. For example, create scenarios or case studies that are relevant and meaningful. If you’re teaching a policy, instead of presenting the policy, create a real world situation where the policy applies. Then walk them through a scenario where they get to make decisions and get feedback based on how they apply the policy.
I recommend pulling in recent learners—people who’ve just learned what you’re trying to teach. They can offer some insight and perspective that is meaningful.
- Get rid of some of your content and focus on performance.
- Create scenarios to engage your learners.
- Simple way to build interactive scenarios.
Get the learners to pull the information. Most elearning courses I see push the information out. This isn’t bad or wrong. In fact, I kind of view an elearning course like a text book. So pushing information out isn’t a bad way to go it’s just not always the best way to go.
Some text books just present information (like a lot of elearning courses); however some included questions and case studies. They pose questions that get you back into the text looking for information and then using it to solve problems. In the same sense, build your courses in a way that the learner is compelled to pull information from the course to solve problems.
- Create courses where the learner pulls information.
- Give your learners an opportunity to explore.
- Help learners create meaning out of the information you share.
Your subject matter experts are key to the elearning course’s success. The challenge is getting them to see what they know from the perspective of the new learner. Help them learn more about packaging their content to meet the learner’s needs and you’ll be off to a good start.
What tips do you have when it comes to working with subject matter experts? Click here to share them.
Here are a few upcoming events where I’ll be speaking:
- Training 2011 Conference & Expo in San Diego on February 7.
- ASTD TechKnowledge in San Jose on February 2-4.
- Learning Solutions Conference & Expo in Orlando on March 23-25.
I’m in Phoenix this week and will be hosting an informal Articulate jam session on Wednesday, January 12. Here are the details.
I’m also working on one for my trip to San Diego. Just looking for a location to host it. If you’re interested in the San Diego session, contact me and I’ll let you know when I get more details.