- Smee : I've just had an apostrophe!
- Captain Hook : I think you mean an epiphany.
- Smee : [gestures his fingers to his head] Lightning has just struck my brain.
- Captain Hook : Well, that must hurt.
Early on in my training career, I embarked on the development of some product knowledge eLearning courses for front line staff in a bank. When they were ready for review, I recall my manager remarking on how smooth the process was. She said it was usually a laborious process getting feedback and corrections from SMEs, not to mention sign-off. I told her I had two principles to guide me: one, make it easy for them to review, and two, schedule a face to face or telephone meeting for the feedback, and remind them.
To make it easy, I wouldn't give them a whole course to review, but only those pages of storyboard that had technical points that needed to be correct. In the review meeting, I made sure I understood all of the corrections in depth, not just what was on the page, and I also invited them to air any concerns or modifications. That way I knew there would be no surprises down the road.
I found that if I went into meetings with SMEs with the expectation that there would be modifications and corrections, rather than expecting a rubber stamp, I was never disappointed, and things could always be worked out.
There's a corollary to the above: this situation only applies when you have the materials with which to build the course to start with. When you don't, it's a whole other kettle of fish.
I once turned down a job for this reason. The client wanted to develop six hours of training. They had already tossed one training consultancy because they found that their SMEs were having to spend too much time with them. I could see why--they had a specialized product that required some expertise in order to write training for it, but they were hiring IDs to do the writing by interviewing SMEs. There wasn't any reliable documentation to build from.
I am sorry, but this not what instructional designers are trained to do. Yes, we write training, but we are not experts and we are not journalists either. The hours I have spent on the phone with SMEs on similar projects I will never get back--and neither will they. I made a recommendation that the client should hire writers who were also experts in their field--and they would not be hard to find--to work as writers under the direction of the IDs, and that the role of the SMEs should be only as reviewers. The firm I was working for didn't think the client had the flexibility to change their plan, so I had to decline. : (
SMEs are great when you use them wisely. Connie Malamed, at the eLearning Coach blog, describes SMEs and IDs as mutually compatible as long you recognize that they "live in different worlds." Her podcast interview, Pro Tips For Working With Subject Matter ExpertsStrategies and techniques from Dawn Mahoney and Diane Elkins, brings up some interesting points, such as:
- The ID is a kind of filter between the content and the student.
- The best SME for a practical skill is not necessarily someone who can talk about it but someone who does it well.
- One SME does not a course make. We need to talk with people who come at the subject from a variety of perspectives (worker, manager, senior management} to get well-rounded content.
- It might be worth the time to explain to the SME what an ID does, so that they understand your role as a partner and not just a secretary.
And lots more. You can go listen below. (I'm a print guy, so I'm glad there's also a transcript.)
Mitch, aka The SME Wrangler
Elearning Coach: http://theelearningcoach.com
Blog page/podcast/transcript: https://theelearningcoach.com/podcasts/65/