SME and IDS at the Same Time?

I am just wrapping up the design on the E-Learning Design Boot Camp and I had this profound question enter my mind: Is it impossible to be an Instructional Designer and a SME at the same time? I have been deep in design and development on these modules for some time now and the hardest part about the whole project was getting the content out of my head and into a course. No, not even a course, just an organized presentation to later go back and filter though the instructional design process.
I truly have a new appreciation for both the Subject Matter Expert as well as the Instructional Designer and our role. It is hard to be a SME and try and organize and capture the parts and pieces of expert knowledge because it is just of what we know and do everyday. The role of Instructional Designer is like a detective or Archaeologist. We need to have the skills to be able to help that expert articulate and break down what they know in simple terms so someone else can learn it. We look for clues and facts to weave together the story and instructional flow.
When I have clients who express concerns about our lack of expertise in their industry, I always confidently answer that it is to their advantage that we aren’t experts. We need to be able to ask the right questions without prior knowledge or assumptions, to really find out what someone needs to know or do to reach the desired level of competency.
As I tried to be both SME and Instructional Designer, I was quickly reminded to take my own advice. I was able to learn a new perspective and way for a SME to map out what they know to help them “get it out of their heads” and then leave it to the experts to re-organize it and add the instructional approaches that will best help a novice learn.
5 Tips for Subject Matter Experts
1. Block some time to really think about what you know about the topic at hand.
Some things to ask yourself are, “What skills do I need to have to be able to do this?”, “How did I first learn this?”, “What are the steps in the learning process? Clearly someone doesn’t need to know EVERYTHING that you know when they are starting so what is the first thing, second thing, etc.”
2. Map or outline the steps starting with the big picture and then work into the detail.
Just start writing all the things that come to your mind and then put them in a sequence or outline that mirrors what you do. Decide on one framework and work around that.
3. Determine if there are any known models or schematics that will help illustrate the big picture.
Are their any models or industry experts/methods that support this expertise? Use those as anchors to help organize your own thoughts about the expertise.
4. Get it all out of your head.
Either write it out, create a presentation, or sketch things that you want to say that will help someone learn about your topic. Record audio, or write down exactly what you would say if you needed to give a lecture on the topic. Just don’t become attached to the presentation. This is a good time to engage an Instructional Designer or someone else to ask you questions about your expertise. This will help you frame up the topic.
5. Package it up and hand it off.
Now that you have gotten all of the important content out of your head and into a form that you can give to someone else. Step back and let an Instructional Designer come in and make the content instructionally relevant to the person learning it. It becomes about the learner in this step and stops being about what you know. Allow the Instructional Designer to change and evolve your message in the best way for someone to learn it.
What a great reminder of why the Instructional Designer/Detective/Interviewer role is so important to the learning process. It really allows us to capture the content in a way that is learner-centric and let’s the SME focus on what they do best, which is doing what they are the expert at doing.
What thoughts do you have about this? We would love to hear from you – leave a comment below!