Thursday, December 14, 2006

Subject Matter Experts as Trainers - Implications for Rapid E-learning

Wendy Wickham has posted a comment on her blog about Subject Matter Experts as trainers. I think this is a very interesting point she is making about the mindset, focus, interest and commitment of subject matter experts in the learning process. I'm sure we can all think of SMEs that are very motivated to pass on their knowledge, and try hard to help their learners really understand their subject. But unfortunately this is still all too rare.

I think a key reason for this is that SMEs assume that learners are in their (i.e. the SMEs) context, not the other way around. Wendy's point 3. The learner typically has to make the leap of understanding to be able to relate what they are being told back to their own needs or problems. In reality this is very challenging, unless the subject is very easy, and of course if it is that easy, they could probably have worked it out for themselves anyway! Context is critical for learning.

One key area of interest for me currently which directly relates to this discussion is the growth in rapid e-learning activity and its potential challenges and limitations . (See the discussion linked to some trends for 2007.

Rapid e-learning has emerged as one of the key trends for e-learning, and in some ways, rightly so given the cost and time to produce custom e-learning content. A big part of this assumes that SMEs can also become e-learning authors, but as you have pointed out SMEs are generally not great trainers, let alone educators. They might be able to generate lots of powerpoint slides but that doesn't necessarily equate to good learning content. Now the problem will potentially be magnified as they start to produce lots of bad e-learning instead.

I say magnified because this problem already exists in current e-learning, and it also exists in SME driven training. But with rapid e-learning, we don't even have the SME face to face to give us a chance to ask questions or examine our context. Their potential to crank lots of bad learning reaches new levels.

Of course this is a risk, and more enlightened organisations are aware that they have to manage quality. But our research with large corporates shows that this is not an easy battle, often taking the form of damage limitation rather than added value!


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