Produce a help guide for subject matter experts

Feb 14, 2012

This question gets asked alot these days - Could we produce a help guide for subject matter experts to help plan their modules?

I was just wondering what peoples view is and if anybody has created something similar.. I was thinking along the lines of producing a e-learning spec form and instructions for writing the material in power point...

I think it's daunting for subject matter experts to get asked to write an e-learning course, when really you only need to think about writing the content and not to get boged down with the interactive elements....

12 Replies
Daniel Brigham

Hi, Mr. Y and Peter:

Helping SMEs create content is an important issue, and not too long ago I wrote a blog post on it. In the post, you can download the content map template I use and well as other docs that will help your SMEs.

Hope you find the post and docs of some value. Helping SMEs Write Relevant Content

Let me know if you have any questions on the approach I take.

Steve Flowers

That's great Daniel. There are a few approaches I've taken in the past. We have a list of questions we've used to frame and focus orientation content that could work for more specific technical skills. We always start this by providing two rules for the SME:

  1. Be respectful of the performer / participant's time and environment. 
  2. Focus on value and relevance.

With these in mind, here are the questions we use to frame compliance orientations (I stop short of calling these training unless we have a solid skill evaluation metric):

  • What's the overarching goal? What exactly do you want the learner to be able to do when they finish the module? Are you looking for a specific organizational metric (decreased safety incidents, increased sales, etc..)
  • What is the organization's policy regarding this goal? Is this driven by internal or external mandates? 
  • What is the minimum the performer needs to know to meet the organization's expectations for this goal? Are we building novices (familiar) or journeyman (capable)?
  • What consequences are associated with the skills / performance (both positive and negative)? What will happen to a performer if they don't adhere to a process / policy? What will happen if the performer does adhere? 
  • How does the topic / goal relate to the culture of the organization? Are there subcultures within the organization that might relate differently?
  • What scenarios or real-life case studies do you have that best illustrate proper adherence or consequences of improper adherence to the policies or processes associated with this goal or topic?

There's another handy rule you can use to balance information breadth and depth to minimize unnecessary complexity:

Scope and detail should be inversely proportional. If you're talking about broad scope concepts or topics, don't go into detail as tempting as it might be. And if you need to relate a detailed task, avoid the temptation to provide the overview in the same context.

Bruce Graham

I also try and always play the "ego card". I appreciate that a lot of time and effort has gone into their heads, and while we do not want to use it all at this particular moment we value that it is all important.

If our learners would like to investigate more about this (great) subject what's the best way? Could we use some of your valuable time and make you available, perhaps to hold a webinar for them to ask questions should they want to?

Most of the time, a good, distilled set of "Optional Resources" is the end game.

The "minimum" concept is spot on - to achieve THESE learning objectives, which may only be a subset of your staggering knowledge and capacity for detail


Steve Flowers

The ego thing is a really important consideration. We usually like to provide the SME an opportunity to attach extensions to the core thread. By separating input into two buckets or along a spectrum we can create spaces for "need to know" and other spaces for "nice to know". The nice to know might show up in an article that's either attached to the module as "more info" or given to the program as something that they can dispatch a month or more after the student takes the module. Keeps it alive.

Bruce Graham

Daniel Brigham said:

Bruce, I wish I could be a fly on the wall as you converse with your SMEs. A bit more seriously, you are right that we need to reassure SMEs that we deeply value their knowledge.


A great, and pertinent quote from my close-up magician days (seriously...)

"If they like you, they will like what you do."

I know it sounds trite, but never underestimate the power of a smile, carefully-placed humour etc. Most of the time people are just people, and they will respect what you want to do. It will be easier if you can establish credibility too, and a voracious appetite for their subject matter, so that you can understand how to use it most appropriately to fulfill the learning objectives...


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