Member Needs and Subject Matter ExpertsSubject Matter Experts (SMEs) may be from Mars, and Instructional Designers may be from Venus … but at the end of the day, your members are the actual center of the universe! The working relationship between Subject Matter Experts and Instructional Designers (IDs) is often portrayed as antagonistic, challenging, and “like pioneering a new frontier in the universe.” But designing learning for your members does not have to be the kind of painful undertaking that makes all parties involved prefer a root canal over working together! When Subject Matter Experts and Instructional Designers come together for the common good of creating sound, member-centered objectives and experiences, it is possible for the stars to align as stellar learning outcomes.

We aren’t the center of the universe?

Build the relationship. Respect their time. Create a communication plan. Thank you very much every article, book, and blog out there offering this advice for working with SMEs. Unfortunately, this is old news and essentially the basis of any good working relationship. If you are not doing this already, you may have bigger problems. I want to talk about a dichotomy shift akin to the discovery that the Earth was not actually the center of the universe. I’m talking about the very frightening concept of each party accepting that both are experts in their own right. The SME has likely spent years of their life perfecting their craft, and are proud to share every fascinating detail with anyone who will listen. Similarly, the Instructional Designer, quite possibly obsessed with all things learning, has analyzed every learning theory, design strategy, and delivery mechanism known to humanity. The beauty of this Big Bang in the making is that both the SME and ID possess very valuable assets. When they come together they have the potential to create a great impact on member learning and development. In short, if they can respect each other’s passion for what they do, share their enthusiasm, and apply their expertise in a targeted training program, the learner receives the best of both worlds.

Let the learner be the star

Assuming the learner’s perspective is essential to building effective training experiences. It is not unusual that the perceived tug-of-war can obstruct the overarching objective, which is to understand the learner’s needs and design learning opportunities to meet those needs. Remember that your members not only want to learn, they want to be successful learners! This means helping your SMEs find how the content is directly relevant to the learner. Do this by sharing your design strategy with your SME early and demonstrating the relationship between the content and the stated learning outcomes. Also, ask your SME how they themselves acquired their vast knowledge. Did they become an expert in a two day class or a one hour eLearning? Remind them that their experience came by way of an iterative process over time. Allowing learners to experience this development through “ah-ha” moments will resonate better than a fact-dump and ultimately facilitate the learner’s journey to proficiency.

Avoid eclipsing the real goals

Instructional Designers must also help SMEs recognize that creating positive outcomes means not overwhelming or stressing the learner. Extra information that is not germane to the learning objectives may distract and overload learners, overshadowing the learning objectives. Involve your SMEs by asking them to help with brainstorming and scaling back information into three categories: essential to know, important to know, and nice to know. Focus your lens on the first two topics and reserve a “Resource” section of your learning for “nice to know” items. Does your SME think everything is essential? Naturally. Here’s some help:

• Speaks to the heart of the topic

• Is critical to performing the task being taught

• Will be assessed through evaluation or is directly linked to performance• Keys to understanding the topic

• Links to essential understanding (foundations)

• Needs to be assessed• Interesting points which add value

• Helps make links to other concepts

• Thematic to topic being taught

Keep your members at the center of the design universe by remembering that the reason you’re undertaking the project is because you recognized a need that they have. You are their representative and spokesperson. It is up to you to allow SMEs and Instructional Designers to maximize their talents, while simultaneously keeping everyone united and focused on your members’ needs. Although they may never know the effort you put in to ensure the success of their learning journey, you can take satisfaction in knowing that you have followed through on your promise to always put member needs first!

If you’d like to learn about custom eLearning course creation from Digitec Interactive, visit our eLearning page.

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