Usually, but not always, if you peel back the layers of the requirement for any learning intervention, you’ll find it’s the SME (subject matter expert) who is the real champion behind it. I say this because, in around 90% of the elearning projects I’ve been involved in, it was the SME who first identified there was a problem in the business that needed solving. That’s why they made the face-to-face training, manual or powerpoint that attempted to address the issue in the first place.
Through our blog posts, we’re going to be sharing the stories of our own learnings, on our journey from serving 30,000 to 500,000 learners, and we’ll be looking at how we can build effective relationships with clients and stakeholders, such as SMEs to bring about great elearning.
So, if your SME was the first one to spot the issue, it’s likely they will be best positioned to tell the story about it: what it is, why it came about, who it affects, and what needs to happen to change it.
There are some ace tips in Nicole Legault’s list for working with SMEs which I’d recommend a read and there are some solid practical guidelines for work with SMEs from elearning stalwarts Kineo and elearning brothers. But I think it’s worth talking about story telling.
The best relationships with SMEs come out of understanding where they are coming from. Acknowledging that, provided your client has put the right person in front of you, this person will be a font of knowledge, not only for the subject matter, but also about the issue that you’ve been asked to address in the elearning. Even when the SME has been the trainer, fearful of being made redundant by the very course she or he is helping me to bring about, I’ve never met an SME yet who cared about the issue who hasn’t been aching to just sit me down and tell me all about it.
This is where you can really engage with your SME. And there are only really three things you need to do:
- Know what the questions are that will elicit the answers you’re after
- Formulate a way of recording the response
- Sit back and listen
Let’s break those down a bit.
1. To know what the questions are that you need to be asking, you’re going to need to do your homework. Do a bit of reconnaissance; see if you can find out about your SME and the subject in advance. Having some fore knowledge also helps to validate you in the eyes of the SME because they feel like they are talking to someone who already understands their problem. You’ll probably want to be asking questions which provides a framework for your SME to tell the ‘story’: How are people doing things at the moment? What are the results? What are the results the business wants? What do people need to be doing to get the results the business needs?
2. You’ll want to record the session as accurately as possible. There are several ways I’ve done this:
- If your meeting with the SME is remote, try to set it up using conferencing software such as Webex, Goto Meeting or Adobe Connect. You can record the session to play back later and you can share the session with other people involved in the project.
- If conferencing software is not an option and you need to use the telephone, try to make sure you can be in a room where you can have the SME on speakerphone and ask him or her if it’s ok to record the session. I normally do this just using the standard voice recording appon my smart phone.
- If you can meet your SME face-to-face, ask again if you can record the session with your smart phone. If your SME prefers not to have the session recorded (and be a bit considerate here – your SME may be bound by data protection rules not to speak about the company into the microphone of someone’s personal phone!), try to take someone else along to the meeting with you, so they can take notes while you run the session.
3. With an effective method of recording the meeting in place, you need to make sure that it’s your SME doing most of the talking. I’ve been in meetings before where the elearning vendor has done all the talking, hijacking the meeting to tell anyone who’s listening all about their side of things, from pitching the solution all over again, to describing in detail the production process they’re going to follow.
So zip the lips and let your SME tell the story. You’ll only probably get the opportunity once to hear it from the horse’s mouth, so make sure you are ready to harness that horse because as you doubtless already know, making effective elearning can often be a bumpy ride!
Once the elearning is into production, SMEs continue to be a major collaborative stakeholder client-side, as they generally need to review and sign-off on the project. You need to keep your SME involved in the ‘story’. I’ve found the easier you make it for your busy SME to access and comment on the built content, the more timely they can be in turning around their review.
We used to do this with scripts which SMEs had to check against a build of the course and track their changes in the script document. But I’ve found new online tools can help keep a consistency in SME engagement because they wrap the review and revision process into one screen. SMEs can continue to collaborate across the project cycle by viewing and adding comments to projects, releases and revisions.
At Elucidat, we’ve been experimenting with tools and processes which help keep the SME involved in the process with minimum effort. We’ve found that easy management of user roles on a project allows project managers to provide levels of access to different stakeholders, so people such as SMEs can easily add comments straight into a project without the danger of changing or deleting the project.
We’ve also found that if there is a comments feature, users can collaborate through comments, helping to remove any guesswork about what the comments refer to.
Cognitively, it is much easier to work on comments inside the project rather than having to switch applications.
If you’d like to explore this topic further, why not take a look at the what the experts say about working productively with clients:
- Matt Borg of Acteon on managing clients
- Steve Rayson of Kineo and Buzzsumo on helping clients manage the pressures of budgets and time.
Why not get involved in the discussion? What tips do you have for getting SMEs more involved in the production process?
We’d love to hear about your experience or tips – just let us know in the comments below!
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