Subject Matter Experts are busy, hard to lock down and when they do eventually get round to helping you, teasing out the expertise you need for the e-Learning solutions youre developing can be like finding a needle in a haystack.
Theres an inherent friction between the much sought after Subject Matter Expert and the L&D professional in many businesses today and as the growth in collaborative training production continues its a friction that more and more learning leaders need to come to terms with.
For course designers, the experience can be mind boggling: after all, their prime objective IS to help lighten the burden of the companys most experienced by complementing the face-to-face learning experience that SMEs know and understand, with online learning support. So why should the SMEs so frequently take a reluctant stance when it comes to collaboration?
Misunderstanding, mistrust and frustration happen in online content development but virtually no one talks about the conflicts that arise between Subject Matter Experts and the L&D professional charged with the job of digitising and rolling out the critical information they hold. What both sides are crying out for is a definitive list of ground rules.
Our top five tips for working with SMEs is just the ticket.
1. Be determined and patient!!
Keep in mind that the Subject Matter Expert has a great deal to contribute. Respect his or her content whilst bringing them up to speed on the reasoning behind asking for their help, and explaining who will be accessing this course in terms of why, when, where. On-the-go learning requires a very different style of course design, with bite-size chunks of material which can be accessed from any device, anywhere, anytime.
2. Explain the tools for the job.
Lack of technical skill translates to extreme defensiveness.Your e-learning expertise may well seem impenetrable to the subject matter expert, not just the other way around. Time spent explaining and doing a walk-through of your e-learning tool with your subject matter expert (SME) will never be wasted. You should end up with clearer and more relevant content for your course if they understand how learners will engage with and digest the course content.
3. Manage your talent!
Re-assure the SME you are not out to replace their existing position as a prized expert within the organisation. These people need to understand that the content you are putting together with their help will serve to complement and boost the training they are already known for delivering. L&D is moving swiftly towards blended learning solutions, and utilising their subject expertise to design and deliver effective mobile learning can only serve to bolster their internal credibility.
4. Manage everyones expectations.
Define the SMEs role in the course development process and make sure that everyone understands it. Set up clear territory boundaries, and make sure that turf protection doesnt get in the way. This should include setting clearly defined deliverables that are agreed in advance of the project getting underway. Those deliverables need to be realistic, sticking closely to the SMEs knowledge area, and you should frame your requests for content within specific questions that marry up with the relevant course requirements.
5. Be firm but nice
....Asking for too much from an SME will result in delays and radio silence down the track. Remember this is probably not their only job, in fact they may well see it as a considerable inconvenience to commit large chunks of their time if you are not paying them. So be positive and appreciative in all your communications. Conversely if the SME is working in a work for hire capacity, make sure he or she is paid upon completion of milestones. Keep the financial motivation clear, but also remember that manners cost nothing.