As an organization, we’ve always taken pride in on-time delivery of eLearning projects, every time. And an efficient eLearning course development process has a huge role to play in this. At a recent meeting, we tried to analyze what makes our production process move smoothly in eLearning course development. Is it the instructional designer who ensures projects are completed in time or do Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) have a role to play? The majority voted for SMEs, and with good reason. That’s not to say the role of instructional designers (IDs) and eLearning developers is negligible, it’s just that they can’t do what they are doing best without the able guidance of SMEs.
Role of SMEs in eLearning Development
SMEs are indispensable in eLearning, especially when you are working on content that’s specific to a certain industry and is highly technical in nature. This is because SMEs:
- Have the domain knowledge and are the right people to address subject-related queries.
- Validate the content to be included in the training program.
- Play an important role in the review of the eLearning course to ensure the content has been explained correctly.
With the availability of modern authoring tools such as Articulate Storyline and iSpring to name a few, some organizations are managing to get SMEs to convert PPT decks to eLearning courses by adding interactivities and assessments. But the possible drawbacks are:
- SMEs are usually hard-pressed for time. All said and done, developing eLearning courses is not their primary role. In some cases, SMEs may be external consultants who have been hired only for the subject knowledge that they possess.
- Also, SMEs may be excellent at classroom training, they may not be well-versed in instructional design for online training delivery. If you want your eLearning course to make an impact on your learners, the role of instructional designers who are experts in eLearning cannot be ignored.
Role of Instructional Designers in eLearning Development
Most often, an instructional designer doubles up as an eLearning developer as well. So there’s every chance that the instructional designer is not only involved in designing the course but also develops the course using authoring tools, thus making him an eLearning expert. In some cases, it’s not so depending on the authoring tool expertise of the instructional designer. Here’s what instructional designers bring to the table:
- Thorough analysis and structuring of content in a logical flow
- Knowledge of instructional design principles to ensure the effectiveness of eLearning
- Awareness of eLearning authoring tools and their capabilities (most instructional designers have the skillsets to develop courses using authoring tools)
Common Goals of SMEs and Instructional Designers
Let’s look at some common goals SMEs and instructional designers can follow for the smooth development of eLearning courses.
1. Understand Requirements
It is essential that both the SME and the instructional designer understand the requirements or expectations from the course. The content expert (SME) has the responsibility to ensure the content is clear and devoid of incorrect information.
The instructional designer (learning expert) on the other hand needs to ask the SME, the right questions in order to extract relevant information. The SME no doubt is the content expert, but the learning expert is the one who understands how people learn best and is able to apply the right instructional strategy to deliver an effective e-learning course.
2. Utilize Interaction Time Effectively
Communication between the instructional designer and the SME plays a huge role in the success of any eLearning project. After a project plan is finalized, the onus is on the ID to:
- Involve SMEs right from the beginning of the project
- Get the buy-in from SMEs on their scheduled review timelines
- Interact with SMEs to determine the objectives of the training program
- Get SMEs’ approval on the course outline and subsequently the storyboards
SMEs usually have other responsibilities at work and may not be available to clarify queries anytime. So it is essential that the instructional designer collates queries and gets them clarified by the SME. Plan in advance and schedule meetings or calls with the SME. This can help in the effective utilization of time.
Using knowledge maps (visual representation mapping the course outline to the relevant content) can make it easier for SMEs to understand the relevance of a question the learning expert might have. Completing reviews on time and sharing feedback with the learning experts is a responsibility of the SME and facilitates smooth eLearning development.
3. Design an Engaging eLearning Program
The responsibility of designing an engaging and interactive eLearning course lies with the instructional designer. But to do that, you will have to pose the right questions to the SME. Consider the example of an eLearning course on process training. Here are a few examples of questions that instructional designers can ask SMEs:
- What can go wrong if employees do not follow the process?
- What are the common mistakes made by newcomers while following this process?
- Can you share real-world scenarios or examples from the workplace?
If an SME needs additional information added, then again it is for the instructional designer to check if it’s need-to-know or nice-to-know information. SMEs cherish the content they provide and most of them may not like the idea of chopping that information. In such cases, suggest alternatives such as adding additional information in the Resources section.
When instructional designers and SMEs work together collaboratively and keep the course focused on learners’ needs, it results in a smooth eLearning development process. Right from the initial storyboards to the prototype to the final deliverable, the SME has an important role to play in disseminating correct information that forms the basis for effective instructional design. Here’s an interesting discussion on the roles of SMEs and instructional designers from Christy Tucker’s ‘Experiencing eLearning’.
Can you think of any other common goals that require SMEs and instructional designers to work together for successful eLearning development? If yes, please use the Comments section to share your thoughts.