Sunday, December 6, 2009

Wearing the SME's Shoes: Recalling a #lrnchat Session

I was going through the notes I make post any #lrnchat session, and I came across this set from September 24th. The discussion had revolved around working with SMEs and what it entails. I have pasted some of the comments/questions as these are the comments that are triggers for this post. (Taken from How CarTalk can save your e-Learning)

1. JaneBozarth: Q1: Helping them focus on critical/must know, not everything-there-is-to-know...
2. philharriman_ek: Q1 SMEs can be so deep into their subject that it can take real effort to find the learner context...
3. Quinnovator: Q1: SME’s don’t know how they do what they do (cognitively compiled), so have to work to get the right focus...
4. tmiket: Challenge to get SMEs to think like a novice. They’ve forgotten how much they’ve learned along the way...
5. PearlFlipper: Q1 One of the challenge is they want to include EVERYTHING?!

Digressing
I was recently re-reading Telling Ain't Training by Harold D. Stolovitch and Erica J. Keeps (a must read for everyone in the field of Training and Performance).

In this, they discuss Declarative Knowledge vs. Procedural Knowledge.
Declarative Knowledge is the ability to describe the process of how something works.
Procedural Knowledge is the ability to actually do it.

This in conjunction with the notes from #lrnchat set me thinking about the difficulties an SME faces when asked to train novices or provide content that will serve as training for novices.

They are the experts--the ones who know how to do something, the ones with the procedural knowledge. They have painstakingly ACQUIRED the knowledge through practice over a period of time. For them, everything is important because they have used every particle of information they have in the course of their work.

They are faced with the following challenges:
>Translation of procedural knowledge into declarative knowledge
>Coming down from the level of an expert to the level of one who knows nothing (once you know something, it is very difficult/impossible to recall how it felt to not know it)
>Facing an ID(usually a someone external to that field of work) telling them all that they have learned over the years with difficulty are not important

Thus, when asked to transfer that knowledge to novices, they are flummoxed. This transfer of one form of knowledge into another becomes the stumbling block. Now, they are required to explain how they do what they do...which is often not an easy task.
Imagine if someone were to ask you, "How do you type?"

What also adds to the massive quantity of information most SMEs will regale you with is the knowledge they have acquired painstakingly through trial and error and, perhaps, failures over a period of time. They try to share their knowledge so that novice learners can avoid the same pitfalls and the pains. And they do not understand why it does not need to be included in the course.

As instructional and training designers and performance consultants, we have to work closely with SMEs to procure content for training programs.

How can we make this task easy, the output effective and the sessions productive?

Instead of wondering at the SME's inability to see from a "training perspective," it is up to us to help them understand.

Here are a a dozen action points that help me:
1. Even before plunging into the content-gathering mode, explain to him/her what the learners need to do post the training.
2. Set up a dialogue that will help them to recall what it felt like to know nothing.
3. Help them to segregate the "must do actions" from "those that enable them to troubleshoot, avoid errors, and so on" by gently probing and asking.
4. Shadow them to see what kind of work they do and map this to the content/information procured so far.
5. Become the "novice learner" and ask questions--no matter how dumb they may seem.
6. Frame the questions to represent the learning objectives if possible. The answers to these will be the focus of the training program.
7. Appreciate their expertise. Don't ever make them feel their knowledge is extraneous, useless.
8. Tell them that novice learners would not be able to grasp all they know and therefore the need to simplify.
9. Work with them to identify the critical content.
10. Keep subtly reminding them of the business objectives of the program.
11. Take them through the development process and show them how you are designing the program. (This will assure them that their knowledge is not being misused or misrepresented.)
12. Finally, show them the value they bring to the training program. Without them, we would not have any program to design.

I look forward to your thoughts...!

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