Friday, September 25, 2009

#lrnchat - Working (or not) with SMEs

If you haven't jumped on the twitter bandwagon because it just seems stupid, then maybe something like #lrnchat will convince you to give it a(nother) try.  Here's a good look at the numbers during last nights #lrnchat from Dave's Whiteboard.  It happens every Thursday night from 5:30pm to 7pm Pacific Time.  For a more pleasant streaming experience use to not only follow the convesation but to easily respond WITHOUT forgetting to add the all-important hashtag (#lrnchat).  If you miss the live event you can always go back to the archives and scan/read the transcript.  Also, don't forget to "follow" @lrnchat to get more info via your twitter account stream.

Working with SMEs
This was the topic for last night's #lrnchat.  It was very interesting to me, but equally frustrating.  Many of the #lrnchat regulars are big proponents of informal learning, web2.0, learning2.0, yada yada.  And so here we all are talking about a very Learning1.0 activity: Working with Subject Matter Experts.  Yes, we will continue to work with SMEs into the future, but the conversation centered mostly around how to talk with SMEs as if we are creating "courses", and other VERY learning1.0 solutions.  Even those who talk about how our job as learning professionals is changing and MUST change only spoke of how we worked with SMEs in the past.  And yes, I certainly do understand the realities of corporate work, and how things aren't changing as quickly as Web2.0 gurus say they will, but aren't we trying to advance the conversation...move the needle even a little?

Here are the questions that facilitated the conversation:

Q1) What are the challenges working with subject matter experts?
Q2) What tips do you have for working effectively with SMEs?
Q3) What are the advantages and great joys of working with SMEs?

Feel free to review the Transcript to get a feel for how the conversation went.  I cannot spend a lot of time cutting and pasting my favorites here.  But one glimmer of hope that made me smile was mention of needing "beginner's mind" or shoshin: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few."  I also support many tweets of letting the SME talk...just listen, listen, listen.  Along the same lines, DO NOT talk learning theory with the SME.  Trust me when I say, THEY DON'T CARE!  (Unless you are creating a course on ISD and your SME is an ISD)

Technology is Changing how/why/if we work with SMEs
With tools like Articulate, Camtasia, captivate, and the many other open source tools, it is VERY easy for anyone to create media that teaches.  Instructional videos created by NON-ISDers fill the internet via YouTube.  Entire courses are being taught via YouTube.  University professors (another form of SME) have their lectures video taped and freely downloadable via iTunesU.  Quite frankly most corporate training workers have NO formal ISD training.  They are recruited from the factory, the warehouse, the storefront, etc.  THEY ARE THE SMEs...put into training rolls because of their knowledge, skills, and experience.  The technology of today makes SMEs eLearning developers.  It may not make them DESIGNERS but they are developing.  And might I say that some are darn good at getting the job done.  They are not clouded with the "expertise" of the instructional designer.  They approach eLearning development with great enthusiasm and shoshin. 

User-generated content is SME-generated content.  How do we deal with that?  When the SME is making his own tip sheets, tutorials, teaching his own class, and engaging with others via social networks, his blog, and other media, then our relationship with the SME necessarily changes...SIGNIFICANTLY!


gminks said...

I haven't written a blog post yet, but this was my frustration on Thursday too!! How can we talk about building "learnscapes" in one breath, and in the other be so dismissive of experts.
IMO that way of handling & treating SMEs is what slows down the development process, and contributes to giving ISD a bad name in the corporate setting!
my bias is showing, I know. But thanks for the post, glad to know it wasn't just me.

Dave Ferguson said...

Brent, I agree with much of what you're saying. I worked as a corporate training/learning professional for 25 years. Then as now, a great deal of training (more or less formal attempts to increase skill) did originate with subject-matter experts, or even non-experts who had the task assigned to them.

Over that time, tools with the potential to facilitate that increase have proliferated, from PowerPoint to Goal Systems' PHOENIX to PC-based authoring tools through the deluge of options around us.

I hadn't heard "shoshin" before, but I think it's a useful approach. Not necessarily the only one, because experts and exemplary performers can succumb to the curse of knowledge:

They are unaware of how they work; they misperceive how they work; as experts they are drawn to the exceptional rather than the routine. Especially in technical areas, their view of their specialty aligns with the idea of knowledge as content, content as a kind of cognitive ballast, and they're big on clumps of facts, nice-to-know, and alleged need-to-know.

So it's not only the professional instructional designer (or the person with that title) who can be "clouded with 'expertise.'"

That said, both the expert and the designer/developer benefit from collaborating. Job aids (cheat sheets) developed by experts or by everyday performers, for example, are a source of practical guidance, especially for procedural tasks.

As you say, engagement via networks (aren't all of them social?) can change and enhance the relationship--with benefits all around.

Elearing said...

It turns out that I have wrong in my belief that elearning tools are no good as a learning management system, as I have been thinking since I heard of the concept. I was thinking that all these e-learning tools taught the learners were how not to interact with others and simply confine themselves to their learning tasks, since the electronic mode in which e-learning solutions come work were seemingly designed to be learned by individuals in the privacy of their own homes or work stations, since this learning management system is particularly geared to provide individuals with a learning tool that can be adjusted to their preferences and pace.