The growing need for training and learning in every industry brings out the need to develop e-content faster and continuously. This requires time-cutting in every step in the process of e-learning development. One such crucial step is extracting relevant information out of Subject Matter Experts (SME) which can take up an unnecessary large chunk of the total development time. Here are a few ways to ensure that SME interactions are faster and feed-in to the entire process of e-learning development:
- Introduce course design and objectives: Many of us view SMEs as demigods who are the experts in their field and will have little to do with actual learners. Now SME are experts and they have vast knowledge in their area of expertise. Without the necessary facilitation on what the learning objectives are and what the learners want to know – the SME will always lack direction as to how to present the information. If the course design and objectives are shared in advance, the SME can align his or her thoughts accordingly. This will reduce the ‘weeding-out’ exercise that often takes a lot of time as experts have a lot to share but most of it cannot be included in the e-learning course.
- Share examples of good e-content: Most SMEs are often not from a training or e-learning background but have vast experience, both intellectual and practical in a particular field. Sharing examples of e-content with them will expose them to the requirements of learning. This will help them align their thoughts and let the right information flow. For instance, they can see for themselves how scenarios work in e-learning and can suggest practical themes or scenarios that can be used in the e-learning course. It will help them visualize the final content better and if all goes well, give suitable inputs for improving course design as well. All in all, if guided well, SMEs could contribute more than just information for the development of an e-learning course.
- Ask relevant questions: SMEs are more often than not pressed for time and have to take time out of their regular schedules to contribute in an e-course. It is a good idea for developers to learn a bit about the topic before approaching the SME as it will help know ‘what’ to ask and understand the answers better. Once the list of questions is ready, sequence them as per the design of the course. For the first round of questions, it is not wise to restrict the SME into the confines of word-count as it is easier to cut-down information than have too little information to work with. In further rounds, as the questions get more direct, the SME can be given a rough word-count to work with.
- Utilize formats that SMEs are familiar with: Most SMEs work a lot on formats such as MS PowerPoint or MS Word. These formats can quickly be transformed into SCORM complaint e-learning using rapid authoring tools. So utilizing these formats is a good idea when time is of the essence in e-learning development. Formats can be created in PPT or Word for the SME to fill in. The chosen font or colors can be shared with the SME to reduce development time further. The content can be then edited and quickly transformed into e-content. Even if design and editing takes some amount of time, the utilization of these formats at least ensures that the content is already placed in a way that does not have to be worked upon much.
- Encourage use of diagrams: When explaining something, most SME use a lot of diagrams to illustrate learning. Encourage SMEs to include diagrams in the content – however basic in look or design. The look and design of the diagrams can be fine-tuned and made to look better or made e-learning ‘friendly’ with the use of tools like annotations and so on. Since the basic idea of the diagram comes from the SME – it will be a good learning tool and will save considerable time as developers do not have to create graphics from scratch – only work on existing diagrams.
- Encourage use of audio: SMEs can also be encouraged to use audio narrations to explain topics in detail. When such detail cannot be used in a course as On-Screen Text, the audio can be included as extra material that the learner can read later to understand topics in detail. Here too, the final audio might have to be re-recorded to ensure quality and the script might have to be fine-tuned. But when the rough material is ready, editing and fine-tuning is an easier job to do than create the same from scratch.
- Utilizing existing material: SME also have a lot of existing material on their subject. And a lot of them are in formats like MS PowerPoint or MS Word which can be transformed into e-learning quickly. Utilizing the existing material to create e-learning content can be a good idea. The SME could provide inputs as to how to align the existing material to the specific needs of the e-course and these changes can duly be made. But there is a negative side to this approach as e-courses and presentations are created for different purposes and just converting a PPT into an e-course might not be sufficient. For the e-learning delivery, the content might have to be re-furbished considerably. But even then existing material can be a good place to start.
For rapid creation of e-content, every step of the development process needs to crunch time. Extracting information from the SME is an important step of e-learning development and a necessary one at that. With suitable interventions and empowering the SME to do more, we can definitely get the best out of SME interactions and create powerful e-learning.