SME feels wordy slides are needed

Hi Everyone,

I have a topic that is a little off compared to what we normally see, but wanted to gather input and begin a discussion around learning. 

I have a SME that feels presentation or eLearning slides related to processes need to be very detailed for "visual" learners.  This SME feels that these visual learners learn based on seeing and reading the text.  I am in the process of changing this paradigm. 

I have used a few techniques to change this mindset, but I was curious what techniques some of you have used to change this mindset to more of an engaging learning mindset. 

For example:  I sent this individual a presentation to review that was visual and had speaker notes.  They didn't want the speaker notes but wanted everything on the slide. 

3 Replies
Ray Cole

Hi Brandon,

The answer to your question really depends on a lot of factors, many having more to do with who has authority than with good instructional design. In the ideal world, you are working internally as a staff ID, and you have the support of your management to enforce good instructional design principles, or at least to reject bad ones. In that situation, you can simply inform your SME that you are the instructional designer and it is your role to determine the best way to design the instruction; the SME's role is to supply content and ensure that your "translation" of that content does not introduce important inaccuracies. This understanding of roles and responsibilities is very important: you own the design of the instruction, not your SME!

It's best if you discuss these roles and responsibilities up-front, ideally during the first "kick-off" meeting with your SME. Explain that you'll be taking the content the SME provides to you  and "translating" it in to effective instruction. Set expectations early: you will not be simply taking the SMEs content as-is and publishing it out; you will be translating that content into case studies, interactive exercises, learning games, and simulations that give learners the chance to put what they learn into practice.

It may be harder to establish this division of roles (and to establish your authority as the ID over the instructional design) if either a) you do not have the support of your management, or b) you thought you were hired as an expert consultant but the client thinks you were hired as grunt labor. A benefit of having the discussion about roles and responsibilities early is that it can uncover this mismatch of expectations in the case where you are hired from outside the company, in which case you can decline the job if necessary.

I think in general it is very hard to convince a client who wants bad design that his or her design ideas are bad, and it's especially hard to do so while having an abstract discussion about a course that hasn't been designed or built yet. It's easier to convince by doing good work that leverages the principles of good design, but of course, to make this convincing argument, you have to first be allowed to design and build a good course. If the client won't let you do that, it might be the right thing to help them find someone else to do their bidding and walk away. If you're an internal resource and the client is being obstinate, it might be helpful to involve your management.

Good luck.

Ned Whiteley

Hi Brandon,

I totally agree with what Ray has said above.

The SME is undoubtedly the expert on the topic, which is why he/she needs to provide you with the content for the course. However, you are the expert on the design of the course. In the same way that you respect the SME's subject knowledge and wouldn't expect to query it, they should also respect your knowledge of course design and development.

Decades ago we used hand-written acetate sheets in cardboard frames on overhead projectors and then one day PowerPoint arrived and all our prayers were answered. However, trainers insisted on using a different transition for every slide and on filling every square inch of space with text and it wasn't long before audiences were falling asleep. The main reason for this was that the trainers were the SME's and were also the course developers and, through no fault of their own, although they knew their subject matter well, they had no real knowledge of good course design. Indeed, many organisations had little understanding of good course design in the early days. Compare that with today where large organisations now have their own ID sections and whole companies are now set up purely to provide instructional design and development.

So where does this all fit in to your original question? The move from PowerPoint slides full of text to where we are today began with two basic rules that are as important today as they were back then.

1.  Less is more

2.  A picture is worth a thousand words

For a course to be successful, it must be engaging and the best way to engage people, especially "visual" learners, is to have clear, concise and visually stimulating slides, not ones full of text that will quickly turn off your audience. If your SME insists on filling each slide with text, he/she might just as well give the students the text book and ask them to read it in their own time.

One option you may wish to consider is to provide your SME with a short presentation in two versions, one which is nothing but text (and lots of it) and another which highlights the key points on each slide and includes a number of images such as graphs, diagrams, photographs or even multimedia to support them (be careful not to overdo it). Get your SME and, ideally, two or three other members of staff to view both versions and provide their feedback. If that doesn't persuade your SME then you could always ask the students as, after all, they are the ones you need to keep engaged.