How to Dig in the SME Goldmine: Working with a Subject Matter Expert

 

Speaker giving talk on podium at Business Conference. Business and Entrepreneurship. Expert presenting his work in lectures hall.

This is Dr. SME, the Subject Matter Expert for your course. He has a 900 slide Powerpoint on atom splitting that he’s very attached to. It’s his life’s work, actually. You’re going to use it as basis for your course. If you cut anything out, you’ll be sorry. So, so sorry.

Wait! Don’t run away.

A Subject Matter Expert like Dr. SME can be a goldmine of useful information and resources for your course. But like in all mining operations, you’ve got to have a plan. You have to deliver a course that meets the learners’ needs. Dr. SME can help you do that, but only if you partner with him. Here’s how to foster a good relationship with an SME so you can strike gold.

 

Respect– All good relationships start with respect. Respect an SME’s knowledge and involve them from the beginning of the project. You should meet with an SME early on to discuss the course. Stay on their good side. Don’t show off your knowledge of educational theory, technical wizardry, or use too much Instructional Design jargon. Your goal at this meeting is to show how your training will add value and help the learner. Getting an SME to like you and care about your project will make everything that follows much easier.

As the project continues, make the SME feel like a valued team member. This is especially important if the SME was assigned to your project rather than volunteered for it. If the SME hasn’t chosen to be part of your project he will be less vested in its success than an SME who wants to be actively involved. You can motivate less-than-eager SMEs by making them feel their contributions are valued. Send a glowing email to your SME’s supervisor. Frequently express your sincere appreciation for your SME’s input.

 

Communication– Regular communication with the SME will keep the project running smoothly. Check in with the SME periodically to keep him involved.

It’s helpful if you and the SME exchange a dictionary of regularly used acronyms or field-specific expressions. You’ll appreciate this if the SME’s subject area is highly technical. The SME will also appreciate knowing the meanings of common Instructional Design buzzwords. It’ll make communication much easier if you both have agreed upon definitions for your field-specific lingo.

 

Collaboration– Work with an SME to determine the course’s goals and structure. Remember Dr. SME’s 900 slide Powerpoint? Like many SMEs, Dr. SME has worked hard on the material and is proud of it. But a since an interactive, learner-centric course can’t include every detail of Dr. SME’s material, help Dr. SME divide the information into three categories: “Vital to Know,” “Good to Know,” and “Nice to Know.”

This allows you to focus your course around key information and will prevent the course from getting bogged down. If your SME won’t let go of the “Nice to Know” information, you can add a separate Resources section, which prevents hurt feelings and keeps your course streamlined.

Lastly, get your SMEs’ input when designing activities for your course. Explain that you need activities beyond quizzes and fact-checking to assess learner understanding. You can draw on your SME’s wealth of experience by asking questions such as:

What kinds of mistakes do new people make?

What kinds of mistakes do people make when they’re careless or overconfident?

If someone doesn’t know this information what could potentially go wrong?

These sorts of questions will help focus your SME on the “Vital to Know” information, and give you excellent ideas for scenarios and activities.

 

Dealing with SMEs can be tricky. You don’t want your project to turn into a cave-in or landslide. Alienate an SME and you’ve lost one of your best partners on this expedition. Keep your SME at one side and your best instructional design practices at the other, and your course will strike gold.

Online Training or Face-to-Face Training: Which is Better?

Bing. You just got a message in your inbox. Your client needs you to design a course. It’s up to you how to present the material. Should the course be presented online or face-to-face (F2F)?

Google around and you’ll see there’s hot debate about whether online or F2F learning is more effective. While there are certainly pros and cons for each, it’s best to look at the audience, material, and intended outcome to determine whether online or F2F learning will best benefit your learners.

Digital Online Training Mentoring Learning Education Browsing Co

Favorable Factors for Online Learning

Large Audience– Online training is the most cost-effective way to reach a large, geographically dispersed audience, such as the employees of a multi-office corporation. Presenting the course F2F means paying for preparation, multiple instructors, travel expenses, accommodations, etc. For an extremely large audience, the cost per head expenses favor online learning.

Consistent Message– If you want to spread a consistent message through all levels of an organization, online learning is the way to go. Instructors vary, and even a course taught by the same instructor can vary depending on the audience. If you’re trying to establish consistent baseline awareness of policies, procedures, or values throughout an organization, online learning trumps F2F. In addition, it’s easier to monitor individual understanding with online learning. You can see who has completed required trainings and spot any knowledge gaps, ensuring consistent understanding at all levels.

Changing Material– Say the course you’re designing involves a rapidly changing field. If the information in the course frequently needs updating, you’re better off using online learning. It’s time-consuming and expensive to constantly retrain instructors and supply them with updated materials. With online learning you can easily change the material from one central point.

Face-to-face training

Favorable Factors for Face-to-Face Learning

Specialized Audience/Instructor – Courses directed at an expert audience such as specialists or senior managers are best taught F2F. An audience with a high degree of prior knowledge may want to focus on a particular subject. An F2F format easily allows the instructor to tailor the course to the audience’s interests. Additionally, courses taught by specialists should be presented F2F. If the CFO of a major corporation is leading the course, the participants will want to see and meet him/her in person.

Specialized or Confidential Material– Courses with hands-on components need to be taught F2F. True, a chemistry student could watch a video of chemical reaction, but that’s a poor substitute for actual lab experience.

If your training is highly dependent on monitoring social cues and body language, such as a counseling or conflict management course, you should present it F2F. Make sure you give learners the opportunity to apply their new knowledge in classroom activities. Kinesthetic learners will especially appreciate these sorts of exercises, but all learners will benefit from an opportunity to apply what they’re learning through role-playing, discussions, and F2F interactions.

In addition, if the course involves instructor-student confidentiality, it’s best to present it F2F. For example, in a conflict management course, learners may want to ask the instructor’s advice for how to handle a difficult employee or co-worker. In an instructor-led online course, learners can post questions or email the instructor directly, but most people would avoid putting confidential questions into writing. In a F2F situation, the learner can approach the instructor privately.

Networking– While synchronous learning offers learners opportunities to work together on online, you can’t beat F2F courses for networking. Courses that involve bringing people together from different companies or departments to collaborate should be taught F2F to give learners valuable opportunities to pool resources, network, and generally schmooze.

 

To wrap up, online courses are the most cost-effective way of disseminating a consistent message to a broad audience with a limited budget, while F2F courses are best suited to networking, and specialized audiences, instructors, and material. Take a hard look at the audience, material, and intended outcome to decide which method will best serve your learners.