I’ve talked on this site many times about SMEs—the subject matter experts that L&D teams often rely on for content. I’ve also discussed how SMEs, due to their topical expertise, frequently are absorbed by L&D departments, becoming key players or team members. These folks provide rich wells of content that benefit learners, so the progression from SME to L&D makes sense. While this integration may be a good fit, it’s wise to follow best practices and heed a few truisms as you integrate SMEs into L&D roles.
Topic Expertise ≠ Instructional Design Expertise
Of course subject expertise matters. That expertise forms the content of many of the learning programs that L&D teams execute. However, if you want to create effective learning, then pair subject matter expertise with instructional design (ID) expertise. Without this pairing, SMEs cannot create effective learning.
Learning program results flow directly from learning program design. It takes ID skills to master the design methods that lead to measurable results. Delivering content is not enough. That content must lead to defined behavioral outcomes. SMEs must learn to generate measurable, quantifiable learning. Those skills are necessary to improve the standing of L&D, and are required to successfully integrate SMEs into L&D roles.
SMEs Speak the Language of the Subject but Not Necessarily the Language of Learning
A SME with a reputation as a topic expert usually earned that status by being good at their work. If you are lucky, they may even be a good communicator. However, it takes more than content knowledge and good communication skills to turn a SME into a successful facilitator or learning professional. To successfully integrate SMEs into L&D roles, they also need to master the language and skill sets of their L&D peers.
That knowledge includes learning to define learning targets and outcomes. SMEs must understand how learning programs create skills in employees. They need to understand how learning programs are structured for students to comprehend and apply the content. They need familiarity with learning design strategies and methods. SMEs must learn the types of outcomes expected and the means to evaluate outcomes so they know how to diagnose and repair learning programs. Finally, SMEs must comprehend the relationship between learning outcomes, behavior changes, metric changes, and organizational success.
SMEs—and All L&D Roles—Need to Master Measurement
Creating measurable learning is a must if we hope to have effective learning. If we cannot identify the expected outcomes and measure the achievement of the expected results then how can we be useful in driving which learning programs are needed? How can we expect others to have confidence in our programs? The need to create measurable learning is true for those new to L&D roles and even veterans who have not yet mastered this necessary skill. For far too many learning professionals, learning measurement seems like a myth or an unattainable goal. There’s too much confusion that surrounds this topic. That’s a shame, because learning measurement is truly a simple process once you learn to think about it correctly.
It’s a simple process to measure learning but, increasingly, it’s becoming a demand from business stakeholders. That’s understandable. In tight labor markets, the L&D function becomes critical. Business leaders need to know their time and resources are being spent wisely. They demand data that shows the input/impact of learning programs on the organization is effective. Measurement proves the impact as well as the professionalism of your L&D team.
As an L&D leader, perhaps you are now trying to integrate SMEs into L&D roles on your team. Tap into their topical expertise, but also ensure they master ID principles. If your team members need to learn the principles of instructional design and how to create measurable learning, please contact us here at eParamus. We’d love to help.
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