Do You Really Need a SME to Develop Materials?

By CelesteLackay, 27 November, 2017

I have been supremely blessed in that I have been kept busy with design and development work this past year. My group of contacts is small, but they have been loyal. One of them referred me to a client who wants to become accredited and the referee assured me that she is so impressed with the materials that she had no qualms that I'd love it too.

I have been given the training manual they have used in the past to convert into a learner guide and design assessment activities against. The client is an MBA graduated engineer and author of the manual was equally qualified, so I thought "this will be easy". The quotation I gave was based on me just formatting the guide. Besides, both the author and the client have a strong and long experience of working in a field where "German precision" is the ultimate! How hard can it be?

Skip to, 2 days in and I have already lost my rag! You would too when you see these little nuggets on page 1: What is the first activity you do during a working day at office? (Sometimes even on holidays)
Very often, the answer is checking emails. If there is lot of emails, then these emails decide the activities of the day. What happens if there are no emails at all? Then we get depressed. We get an unimportant feelings’’.

Or: Progressive elaboration means, when we start a project we have very less information about the project and as the project progress we gain more and more insight into the project. At the time of preparing a proposal for a project, we have very less information about the project. When we complete the estimation we have a better understanding. When we complete the design we gain further insights. During construction things get clearer. We call this process as progressive elaboration. Based on these additional insights plans can change.
Or: A group related projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits and control not available from managing them individually.

Enough to do my head in!

Let me break down my understanding of the roles. Assessment designers and developers is/are responsible to help the trainer to define their course specifications, analyse the training needs, define the learning scope and objectives and decide on the format, as well as on the assessment method. This is all made easy if the designer is in the loop from the beginning, but let's face it. This very seldom happens because the SME (read project manager, operations manager, human resources administrator) feels that they are better placed to teach others what they know.

It is not understood (or budgeted for) that the SME must be relied on to communicate their knowledge, offer an outline of the subjects / concepts that they feel MUST be covered, and check the accuracy of the material provided by the ID team. Very seldom is the SME the designer, and with good cause! (See the examples included and highlighted above it you think I am wrong.)

So in answer to the question in the subject line, NO, but it would help in certain cases, e.g. in healthcare. A relatively inexperienced training materials designer & developer might in some cases be more appropriate than an expert one, because he or she may have a better appreciation of a novice learner’s thin background and design a more detailed and explanatory course content. In other words, he or she can identify himself with new learners, which, depending on the level of the students, might be extremely useful.

I am trying my damnedest to convince my client to give me carte blanche and do what I do best, but I suspect that I may not be successful because of the difference in their and my education and because they have already used this material and may just see this an attempt from my side to either just get my way or inflate project costs.

The real problem is that learners may have a wonderful and enriching experience in the classroom because the trainer is experienced, knowledgeable and "a really good communicator", but they leave with that same learner guide.

What about manufacturing of standard products (iPods, Toyota Camry cars etc.)? We call these as operations. Project Portfolio management what will you do, if you have 5 Crores INR (Indian Rupees) (1 USD = 37 INR). If you have an answer, then the subsequent questions that will loom large in your mind can be: Is this really the impression you want to leave them with? Really?


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