Need more hands-on-deck? Turn a SME into an Instructional Designer!
As design professionals, we are sometimes asked to be all things to all people to fulfill the needs of learners.
And, this can include taking on a SME (Subject Matter Expert). A topic SME is someone who knows the content backward and forwards but doesn’t know anything about good instructional design to create important learning materials and programs.
You have the instructional design-savvy and neuroscience, but the development of a SME into an instructional designer can definitely be a whole new level of challenging.
So, how do you turn a SME into an instructional designer?
It’s not every day that you are tasked with developing an incredibly knowledgeable, content-rich SME into an instructional designer who can build a quality training. But, when it does happen, I’ve got some great tips to help you make that transition easier and faster for you and the newest member of your ID team!
Turn a SME into an Instructional Designer with these 5 Steps:
- Begin with the End in Mind
- Focus on the Need to Know
- Involve Me
- Entertain My Brain
- Measure Success
The great thing about these five steps is that they can serve as a learning template for any course. And, they can be used with new instructional designers, not just with your SME who has transitioned to instructional design!
Providing these 5 questions as a template for a course or program design is a great way to help give a simple, directive, and supportive steps for any beginner.
Begin with the End in Mind
This isn’t actually the riddle it sounds like, but it just might be the most important step/question to help your SME consider when you work to turn a SME into an instructional designer.
Before the content is written, the SME must take some time to visualize the end for each learner. This can prevent creating something that has very little learning value.
Here are some questions to help the SME visualize the end for each learner:
- What is the intended learner outcome?
- Specifically, what should learners be able to do after they complete this training?
- What are our goals here?
- What are the learning objectives of the training?
Thinking about the end can help the SME visualize the path to completion as well as all of the stops and turns needed along the way. What’s that old saying from Alice in Wonderland? Oh, that’s right, it’s “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”
Not thinking about the end, in the beginning, could take you down a random path of development that leads nowhere.
During this first step, the learning objectives for the course are created, which serve as the anchor for the content. Quality learning objectives focus on learner action, which goes beyond words like “know” and “understand.”
Here is a handy, simple to use action verb resource from the Governors State University website. Click here to check it out.
Objectives are TRICKY even for the most experienced instructional designers. Even trickier when your focus is to turn a SME into an instructional designer!
Focus on the Need to Know Information
After the learning objectives are fleshed out and you and the SME have a clear path to completion, it’s now time to weed out nice to know information. Basically, you will eliminate any content that the learner does not absolutely need to know right now to achieve success.
This will allow you to focus on building out the need to know content, which is the content that will help the learner achieve the desired outcomes for the course and the organization.
It’s important that you work with the SME to remove any personal biases related to the content. This can be especially difficult for a SME who is super passionate about the content and who is untrained in instructional design.
All that to say, you will most likely need to explain why s/he cannot throw everything, including the kitchen sink, into the training materials.
Sometimes what we LIKE about the topic is not what is most important to the learning objectives and goals. But this can be hard to see and sometimes benefits from a little light shed on the reasons why.
One method to ensure the content focuses on the need to know content is to use curriculum mapping. Curriculum mapping, in this case, means that you map each section of the content back to one or more of the learning objectives.
If the content does not map back to at least one learning objective, you need to challenge why it has been included. In most cases, the appropriate response is to cut the content, but sometimes the fluffy, nice to know content has a purpose. If it does, keep it. If not, goodbye content!
Another developmental milestone to cover as you turn an SME into an instructional designer is learner engagement.
Once the SME has the learning objectives nailed down, the fluff removed, and the focus is on the need to know content, it’s time to pull it all together in the shitty first draft of the learning experience.
Check out this article by Jason Lengstorf for more information on the Shitty First Draft.
Your task is to help your SME explore the many ways s/he can keep the learner involved and engaged in the learning experience.
Here are some questions to help your SME come up with ways to involve the learner:
- Are there stories, personal/real-world experiences that support the content?
- How could you use stories/experiences to help explain the content?
- How can the learners share their stories/experiences?
- What activities could the learners participate in to reinforce/practice the key learnings?
- What shifts can be made in the delivery to involve learners and avoid lecturing?
Adult learners want to be involved and in control of their learning experiences so it is super important to find many opportunities for this to happen across all learning episodes.
Now, an important tip for any new instructional designer is that clicking a forward button in an eLearning course is NOT learner involvement or engagement.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been directed to an “engaging and interactive” course where my involvement was limited to clicking the next button to move to the next screen. Hello, that is NOT involvement or engagement or interactive. It’s a contributing factor to Mouse Finger and not much more.
Don’t get me wrong, forward click buttons are helpful and necessary at times, but they are not a method for involving and engaging the learner as they are often mistakenly thought to be.
Entertain My Brain
When you have a magazine in hand, what do you do? Do you flip through the magazine until you find something interesting to read? I do.
What makes the article interesting? I am, or my brain is, usually attracted to articles that have a very interesting title OR those that look visually interesting with graphics and photos that attract my eye.
I really can’t say enough about how important great visuals are to keeping our brains engaged and focused. But not every visual or graphic is valuable!
When I was a new instructional designer, I had no idea the value of each and every graphic in a poster, icon, brand, course, billboard, or anything else. I mean, I thought clip art was fun and creative. Shh, don’t tell anyone I told you that!
Not until I had to build something myself did I understand how many HOURS are invested in finding just the right graphics that serve the right purpose to reinforce key messages in the content.
Today, hunting for the perfect image to support a message is one of my FAVORITE activities when creating a course, video, blog post, or supplemental resource!
If you look at each of the images in this blog post, you will see that I found images that align with or reinforce a key message in this post.
One trap to avoid is the addition of too many graphics. It’s a balance. You don’t want to have so many that you distract the learners. Visuals are so important, but the right visuals are beyond essential.
We started with Begin with the End in Mind so that we would know exactly what we could evaluate and measure in the end.
As you work to turn an SME into an instructional designer, this may be one of the hardest development points.
Why? Until this point, the SME’s experience with learning has most likely consisted of someone delivering content without ever explaining what they are looking for in return from the learner as evidence that learning is taking place.
In school, the evidence was often in the form of a paper or an exam. In the training, your SME creates, however, s/he will need to think outside of his/her personal experience to find other ways to measure learning success.
Here are some questions to help the SME measure success:
- How will we evaluate each learning objective was achieved by the learner? What will we look for?
- Behavior change?
- Assessment score?
- Supervisor feedback?
- Company metric positively impacted?
- How will we evaluate the learner’s level of readiness to perform?
- In class check?
- Post-course survey?
Turn a SME Into an Instructional Designer Action Steps
When I was a new instructional designer, I really could have used the steps outlined above to help avoid unnecessary grief and hours of work! My bet is your SME could too.
So, here is what I want you to do.
- Share this post with your SME.
- Ask your SME to download this supporting handout and fill it out when building his/her course/program.
- Be a mentor to your SME along the way!
There is tremendous value in working with a SME. And, I believe you will discover that along the way if you haven’t already.
My preference is to keep the topic SME role separate from the ID SME role. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. For instance, many conference speakers are SMEs turned instructional designers. Another example might be someone knowledgeable on a topic, like Excel, who has been asked to lead a lunch and learn.
It is very commonplace to turn a SME into an instructional designer. The 5 tips shared in this post and the downloadable resources can help you HELP THE SME maximize the learning!
It’s a win-win for everyone. You get to leverage the knowledge and talents of the SME without actually doing all of the leg work!
My Facebook Group is a great place to add your questions and engage with other instructional designers on different topics related to instructional design, so jump on in and join the conversation.