About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I AM a subject matter expert

In the Learning Circuit's Big Question, Tony Karrer poses the following questions:

Working effectively with subject matter experts

There's a lot to this topic, and certainly it's an on-going challenge. Some specific questions that are raised in this area:

* What should all IDs know about working with a SME?
* What can you and can't you expect a SME to do?
* Does it work to have SMEs create rapid eLearning?
* How does social and informal learning impact how you engage with SMEs?
* What's your favorite instructive story of working with a SME?

I'm going to approach this from the point of view of the SME as I either do my own ID or have worked in groups in which I was the SME.

I am perhaps unique in that as a SME (in my case, I was the SME for courses in Marketing Research and Foreign Language-French and Spanish), I do know about Instructional Design in the context of online learning. However, I think many ID's underestimate (or overestimate) the instructional understanding of a SME. Many times they have their own understanding of how students learn and will give information based on that understanding.

For example, when developing the courses on Foreign Language, many of the SME's had a strong belief in the drill and repeat way of learning the foreign language. The ID had a different view of language learning. The discussions often was around the pedagogy of language learning rather than the content itself as the content came out of the pedagogy. Interestingly enough, many of the SME's weren't even aware of their pedagogy until they began to share their expertise in terms of what should or should not go into the curriculum.

Personally, I believe all learning should be in context. Rapid elearning is possible as long as it is tailored for a certain population. The SME needs to know and understand their target population before they can contribute to any elearning. For example, I used to develop curriculum for short term training in English Language to prepare groups going to the US for training. I needed to know why the group was going, what type of training they would need in the US, and how much time they had to prepare. Even now, I could develop a curriculum and text for any group within a week for English Language Training as long as I had their profiles. A "general" course would not be effective nor would it use my expertise effectively as I knew what a group of illiterate, rural administrators going to Tennessee would need as opposed to a group of educated (many outside of the country) auditors going to the NE US would need.

Many SME's, I can tell you from experience working with colleagues who are SME's, find elearning and the technology that affords informal learning as something inferior. They may perceive ID's as the "technicians" who really know nothing of the topic (nor should they in the SME's opinion). They often feel that pedagogy is the whelm of the SME and the ID should not do anything but put the real information into a "pretty" design. Likewise, I have worked with ID's who try to force my expertise into a format that I don't believe will work given my understanding of the subject.

I have a classmate who works at RPI. They have a great process for working with SME's. Theirs is a truly collaborative process in which they spend time developing trust with the SME's and designing learning based on the SME's own style. They are very careful not to tell an SME's that what they want to do cannot be done, but rather demonstrating different options from which the SME can choose. Often the same ID will work with the same SME over a period of time (which also helps to develop the partnership needed). They also have a great series of questions which they use when initially working with a new SME. This includes questions about their view of pedagogy.

To me, the most important thing to do when working with an SME is to spend the initial time getting know the SME and developing a trusting partnership, whether they are in the same physical space or not.

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