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Consider the SME’s Strengths: from “Effective SMEs”

Posted by Greg Owen-Boger on Mon, Mar 12, '18
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This post is the seventh in a series of excerpts from “Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide for Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning.” In this excerpt Dale Ludwig (Turpin Communication’s Founder) and Greg Owen-Boger (Turpin’s VP) discuss the importance of designing learning to play to the SME’s strengths.


Effective SMEs: A Trainer's Guide for Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate LearningLearning conversations do not necessarily follow a logical path from A to B to C. Maneuvering through them requires flexibility. Some SMEs will be comfortable with this concept, while others will not. In addition to their comfort level with group interaction, they also have individual strengths and weaknesses. They may have preferences—and perhaps dislikes—for different types of delivery methods. For example, a SME may prefer group discussion over lecture or solo work over group activities. Because of these variables, the design needs to provide some flexibility. In this chapter, we’ll discuss how this is done.

Once you’ve laid out a strong frame for the training, certain content elements and delivery methods will start to emerge. Let’s take a look at Alan’s negotiation training example again. Let’s say that we’ve identified the delivery methods, in parentheses, for each of the agenda items:

  1. Share your experiences and successes (facilitated discussion).
  2. Share my best practices (presentation and stories).
  3. Identify client pain points (facilitated discussion).
  4. Identify common ground (small group activity with report out
  5. and discussion).
  6. Craft a plan (job aid; individuals work on their own client situation).
  7. Practice and peer feedback (role plays and coaching).

From an instructional design point of view, this training session will have a good mix of delivery methods, including facilitated discussions, presentations, stories, small group activities, individual work, and role plays with coaching. From a traditional instructional design perspective, this plan will satisfy a range of learning preferences.

But the SME’s perspective has not been taken into account. What if Alan is an ineffective storyteller? What if he hates activities? What if he is impatient and doesn’t want to hear from learners about their successes? What if Alan doesn’t see the value in role plays, or maybe his coaching techniques are off-putting to some?

In any of these situations, his ability to manage the second level of success (the process) is at risk because his attitude could seep into the training room.

Not only do IDs design learning events that support the business, but they also have to design so that the SMEs they’re working with feel successful. This is not to say that the design should be dictated exclusively by the SMEs, but their strengths, weaknesses, and preferences should be taken into consideration. There are many paths to a final destination, and if the path that works well for the SME is just as good as any other, why choose something else?


For more information or to order the book, go to ATD Press, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

Topics: Dale Ludwig, delivery methods, designing learning to play to the SME’s strengths, Effective SMEs, Effective SMEs: A Trainer's Guide for Helping Subj, facilitated discussion, Greg Owen-Boger, group activity, instructional design, Posts for Buyers, Presentation, Subject Matter Experts, talent development, Training, Turpin Communication, My team

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