Canada Association of Tourism Employees

Understanding eLearning From An SME’s Viewpoint

Understand e-learning from the perspective of an SME

With online learning becoming the norm more than ever, it is so important for e-learning designers and SMBs to work together effectively to develop high quality content that engages students and encourages active learning. As a subject matter expert, I was introduced to instructional design a few years ago and was immediately skeptical whether someone else would “touch” my content in order to make it “better”. After all, I was the expert, wasn’t I? Open-mindedness (if only at the beginning) and listening to what my instructional designer could do has made instructional design a best practice for my college and our faculty training team.

I admit that understanding the value of working with an eLearning designer was not always easy when I insisted my content was fine. In the beginning I was involved in more than a few “turf wars” and had to swallow my pride and realize that maybe – just maybe – there was a better way to reach learners. Now that I have good relationships with my eLearning design colleagues, I can look back and see that they too struggled. In retrospect, one of the best meetings I had with my eLearning designer involved debunking some of the myths she had about SMEs. Here are a few suggestions I made for her. Today I still share it with my other eLearning design colleagues. One result was robust, learner-centered courses and training programs in which learners were actively involved. The second and equally important is that we work together with appreciation for the content, respect for one another and (yes!) The importance of meeting deadlines.

1. Communicate that instruction design is not about changing content …

… It’s about preparing students / trainees for successful learning.

I agree that SMEs can be seen as difficult at first. It helps to understand why this is the case for many of us. When I was first introduced to teaching design a few years ago, I was first approached by an eLearning designer who told me she was “making my course so much better”. I’ll admit that I’m always open to improving my courses, but I didn’t feel like I needed someone who wasn’t that familiar with the content to “repack” it. If it worked, why change it? In retrospect, I would have been much more open to ideas if someone had approached me: “Let’s work together so that your students are successful in your course and have more fun with it.” That way I felt like I was part of the process, to be heard and my content would be well received by learners who would be successful.

2. Be upfront about schedules and schedules

Set expectations early on in the relationship. Many of us are involved in multiple projects and activities, so a mutual understanding of deadlines, content transfers, status meetings, and content reviews is vital.

3. Be efficient at meetings and do not overwhelm SMEs with details

Based on our collaboration, let us know what you think would be the best design for the course, but we are not necessarily interested in the technical processes involved in developing course components. Too much detail can make us feel like “this is all too much” and we can check it out.

4. Ask questions as you work together

Interviews are great! Please do not expect an SME to understand how to provide detailed descriptions for course design. It’s hard for us to know exactly what the designer needs. When I was reviewing storyboards and SMB questionnaires used for course design, red flags would appear if any of them required SMBs to submit essays describing the purpose of their content in at least 1,000 words. In my experience, the chances that an SME will do that are slim. Most SMEs, however, like to talk about the topics they are passionate about. Hence, asking questions is a way for us to share and for the course designer to get the information it takes to make a great design.

5. State the “why”

If anything other than what the SME is currently doing is better course design, please provide the reason why it supports and enhances student learning. SMEs know their content well and many do not want to change their design. Most, however, want the learners to be successful. Hence, it is important that they understand this better path to success.

6. Share examples and SME endorsements

Realize that many SMBs are analytical, methodical and have a tendency to think very logically. This kind of linear thinking doesn’t allow for a lot of “frills”. In fact, many of us will find them unnecessary. So it’s a good idea to show us an online example of how these course features can actually help learners focus and motivate them to learn. Even better, schedule a meeting with another SMB who has previous experience designing courses and who now understands how students can learn better in engaging, non-linear ways.

Understanding each other with eLearning designers has been a challenge for me, but now it’s so much fun working together that I decided to enroll in an educational design program to teach the courses I teach, which is an integral part of the Layout. Best of both worlds!

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