Do we take our SMES for granted?

Today’s post comes from Fiona Quigley (@fionaquigs), chat2lrn crew member and Unappreciated SMEDirector of Learning Innovation for Logicearth Learning Services. The chat serves two purposes this week.

First – to introduce you to a brilliant DevLearn 2015 session being run by our very own Andrea May, and her able conspirator, Dawn Mahoney.

Entitled, From SME Smackdown to Nirvana, you can read more about it here.

The session runs on October 1st and if any of you are going to DevLearn this year, I’d urge you to consider going to listen to these two fabulously knowledgeable ladies. Andrea and Dawn aim to try to get us out of the ‘kick the SME’ habit and see how we can really get under the hood of what makes them tick.

The second purpose of this blog post is to consider more fully the purpose, role and usefulness of communicating well with the SME.

So that is today’s question. Is the SME a gift that we undervalue?

A SME, in case you aren’t aware is a Subject Matter Expert. Traditionally, it is the person or persons that eLearning folks use to design eLearning content. If you talk to any instructional designer or indeed eLearning project manager, it won’t be long before they are sharing their ‘SME war stories’. In fact, along with the LMS, put a room full of IDs together, and most of the conversations are likely to include SMEs.

The SME is vital to the success of an eLearning project. It is the SME who sets the tone and depth of the content, as well as (hopefully) helping to provide an insight into the target audience. But it is often east meets west when it comes to ID and SME understanding what each needs from the other.

So this week’s chat, I’d like to focus on the relationship of the SME to the eLearning project, and to also think a little beyond the traditional purpose that most of us attribute to the SME.

What is it all about?

If you think about what we demand or need from a SME, it is a bit of a tall order. First and foremost, the SME has a day job. Secondly, they aren’t likely to know much about eLearning, never mind training. Some SMEs are trainers, and this can often help, but by and large, SMEs are ordinary folks who happen to just know a lot about a particular subject.

When you think about the average eLearning project, it is often very time pressured and has a fairly narrow scope in terms of the knowledge and skills we wish to impart. That means from get go, SMEs have to take on a lot of rules in which to impart that knowledge. And most of us involved in learning know that once you put someone under pressure with lots of rules and caveats, it can stiffle communication.

Often SMEs are thrust into the fray because:

  1. No-one else wants to do it
  2. No-one else has time
  3. They didn’t know enough to say no! (or they had no choice)

Understanding where the SME is coming from is a vital first step in building a good relationship. To this end, working along with Dawn and Andrea, we’ve come up with a magnificent seven SME archetypes:

Magnificent 7 SME Archetypes

What we were aiming to do here is to help people think of the SME as someone that we should at least meet half-way. It is important to spend time understanding the SME’s pressures and how to work with them to make imparting their knowledge and insights as easy as possible. We’d argue that it is up to Instructional Designers, along with Project Managers to manage the eLearning development process in such a way that the SME is setup for success.

Everyone is a SME in this modern age!

At a quick glance, you might think we’ve been a bit harsh with the names of our SME archetypes. But on closer inspection, it is more subtle than that. Who hasn’t felt clueless, or unfocussed or a little bit control freakish from time to time on a project? Remember that feeling, because it will help you to help your SME.

However, in this networked world, we’d argue that getting ahead in the workplace is just as dependant on the knowledge and relationships in your network as it is on your own knowledge. A couple of weeks ago, I was interviewing two SMEs and it struck me that the types of precise, targeted questions that I was asking would actually serve me well in most business conversations. Are the skills I use for helping SMEs to impart their knowledge really just good communication and listening skills, and should I apply/practice them more widely?

So join us for #chat2lrn on Thursday September 24th, 8:00 PDT/11:00 EDT/16:00 BST. Can we leverage good SME communication skills to help all of our business relationships?

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