How much should we, as ID's, know?

Hello! 

    I'm currently working on a class for Tableau and need to make some changes to our Advanced Tableau course. I need to add an exercise and, since I designed the course from scratch, I'm the SME. No problem, right? 

     Well, it is a problem because, while I designed the course, I don't "know" it. The Tableau learning community is incredible, but I just spent literally hours on developing another exercise and found the solution/process doesn't work! (And, honestly, that's what I get when I use an article from 2014; I'm assuming upgrades to Tableau have deprecated the solution in the article). 

      Anyway, while I know this isn't a question about SL specifically, how much do we, as ID's, need to "know" to get good stuff out there? I apologize if I'm being insanely ambiguous or generic (and I'm sure it depends on the project), but when you're creating something, how far into learning and understanding the concept, software, etc. do you get before you stand back and say, "Whoa. I'm not the SME here; I need some help to make sense of this." Does that make you look incapable as the ID? How often do you come across individuals who think ID=SME and just a couple books, some research and BOOM! you'll be able to create magic that solves all the client's problems? And if you do come across those types of situations, how do you handle that? 

       Thanks for any ideas, suggestions, comments, etc.!

10 Replies
Bill King

Hi Heather -- I think you put your finger on sort of a timeless question/challenge in our business. In my experience project owners and SMEs with few exceptions want to minimize their time and, notwithstanding assertions made at project initiation, it is almost always a challenge to get the necessary time from SMEs to hit the "bull's eye" on the course. I think the reality is, esp. for SMEs with little or no eLearning experience, 1) both the client and designer have expectations starting out about the other, 2) neither is ever 100% right, and often both are relatively unaligned,  3) the "art" part of what we do I think requires us to align those expectations in mid-flight in a persistent but courteous and professional way that ensures that budgets/quality/timelines/scope stay relatively balanced. For me, this usually involves some combination of being prepared to jump in the deep end and take some chances early while expecting there to be a good bit of cajoling SME's for necessary time/feedback later -- which is always easier once I've created something for them to react to. A tactic I've found useful is making relatively heavy use of placeholders early in projects until project momentum sort of kicks in. Another final thought = some folks carve out niches in eLearning wherein they are expected to offer the subject matter expertise as part of their service. Determining to what degree we live for a given project in the "specialist" vs. the "generalist" category is (too often probably) part of the alignment-of-expectations process/journey I referred to above I think. I'm not sure how helpful that was but appreciated the opportunity to write and think about it a little bit.

Heather Vogt

Thanks, Bill! Your input is appreciated and valued for sure; thanks for responding! 

I especially like the idea about specializing in something and using that specification to drive freelance contracts and project offers. While I'm not a freelance ID (not yet at least), I can see how specializing in something can help weed out completely off-base projects from clients. That being said, however, I wouldn't want to pigeonhole myself. (Sigh) It's always something, isn't it? 

And to make sure I understand what you're saying: you use something like a high-fidelity prototype as placeholders to create a skeleton for the course. Then, when the SME is sending content your way, you can "drop" it into those placeholders? I like that! 

Thanks again! 

Bill King

Heather, FYI/for what it's worth being a specialist is something I've thought about before but pretty quickly dropped for the same reason -- you don't want to disqualify yourself from ~98+ % of all the potential projects out there (on the other hand/plus side you automatically put yourself on a very short list for that other ~2%, so yeah it's always something). I have no stats to cite (maybe someone can comment/help us) but my sense at least is the large majority of eLearning freelancers are generalists although I think the natural trend would/will be, similar to medicine e.g. and other fields, towards specialization over time as more people enter the field/discipline. 

Maija Perfiljeva

Well, in the ideal world, ID can be subject-matter independent and work with SMEs quite extensively. I get the feeling that a lot of assumptions about IDs are based on experiences with teachers (who are seen as subject matter experts and sources of all knowledge) or trainers (who end up in this position for being subject matter experts). The most typical question I hear in the preliminary screening interviews is "But you previously worked in context XXX, how can you design a training for context YYY?" IDs, however, are neither teachers nor trainers, but strategists, consultants, and, quite frankly, "pedagogical psychoanalysts". :) In other words, for me, ID is not so much about knowing the subject matter, but more about the ability to understand the people (SMEs, stakeholders, and learners), the issues and challenges, as well as to find effective ways to solve said challenges.

Being a subject matter expert has its perks, as it makes you more independent and confident about your decisions. However, personally, I've been designing courses predominantly for topics I don't know much about (from yoga to fraud investigation to technical troubleshooting). In this case I would try to get as much as possible out of the first conversation with SME and also ask them to direct me to any resources that I could use. This way I would compose the content myself and get SME's feedback/corrections. I've noticed that they are much quicker to respond if you have written something tangible but incorrect. :) 

 

Daniel Brigham

Heather: Basically, I need to know a bit more than a person new to the topic knows. Which is to say pretty surface level knowledge. But the more courses you build, you find that much content falls into predictable patterns: 1. you (and learners) need to know... key terms  2. features and benefits of a product (or a process)  3. step-by-step of a process 4. the importance of a process (what horrible things happen if it's not followed 5. required safety equipment when doing a process

I've never come close to mastering subject matter. But to me, content fall into certain patterns. Hope that helps. 

Sean Speake

My preference when starting as an ID is to know as little as possible about the topic/process.

I feel I should be drawing content from the SME's and packaging it in an easily digestible fashion for someone new to the material. By having no foreknowledge myself I'm hopefully not prone to making assumptions about prior knowledge.

I also find it's helpful when looking at processes - that's when the consultant hat comes out. If a SME can't explain a process to me, maybe it's an issue with the process, which can become a larger conversation.

Then as a personal preference, I try to forget everything I learned about the topic as soon as the project is done to make room for new stuff. =)

Heather Vogt

Sean,

      I completely agree and see what you're talking about. Luckily for me, I don't know much. :) Seriously, though, I can see how it's good to not know that much about the content in question. You're learning too, and that makes your design that much more authentic. Now here's hoping the SME "gets" that.. 

       Thanks for your input! 

Heather Vogt

Daniel,

      I've been working with SME's using that idea exactly--let me get a basic understanding of what's going on here so, when I do meet with the SME, I can ask intelligent questions that get to the dirty work of content and any possible misinterpretations, trip-ups, misconceptions about the process, concept, etc. I've also found that trolling forums and seeing what people are being hung up on is a valuable tactic.

        Thanks! 

Heather Vogt

Maija,

     I found these two points to be fantastic: "ID is not so much about knowing the subject matter, but more about the ability to understand the people (SMEs, stakeholders, and learners), the issues and challenges, as well as to find effective ways to solve said challenges." and "In this case I would try to get as much as possible out of the first conversation with SME and also ask them to direct me to any resources that I could use. This way I would compose the content myself and get SME's feedback/corrections. I've noticed that they are much quicker to respond if you have written something tangible but incorrect."

       I'm going to use these to inform my interactions with SME's and my general outlook on ID. Thanks for taking the time to respond.