SMEs take on the learning role

SMEs take on the learning roleDoes your organization employ full-time L&D professionals? I feel certain many of you answered no to that question. For many businesses, the learning role has become a side hustle rather than a full-time focus.

I began thinking on this after reading The Future of Learning Careers in Chief Learning Office magazine. I wanted to touch on two of the author’s observations in particular.

In one instance, the author says, “…SMEs are still being used [to teach internally-led classes] but they are borrowed for that function while keeping their line jobs.”

In another instance he says:

In areas that have high levels of turnover such as retail, sales and front-line roles, there are larger numbers of learning colleagues with jobs that are located in a line of business or function. They often have a modifier to describe their learning responsibility such as sales readiness manager or field leader for induction. They may have a dotted-line connection to the L&D department but often see their careers aligning with another business function. As a result, they are less likely to identify themselves primarily as learning professionals.

The SME Role in the L&D Practice

The author is talking about his view of the future of learning, but my point by noting these particular passages is about the current state of learning. L&D practitioners and even L&D departments are filled with instructors pulled or borrowed from other departments to fill the instructor role. Many of today’s L&D practitioners were drawn to a learning role because of their technical expertise. Frequently, SMEs are recruited as training creators. Often, when a  company needed a learning program focused on a particular subject, their natural response was to use the people who knew the subject best.

Let me be clear: There is nothing wrong with this path. I would venture that many, if not most, of today’s L&D pros arrived at the learning profession in this way. The problem that comes from this path is this: subject matter expertise does not mean learning design expertise. To have effective learning, subject matter expertise must be matched with instructional design expertise. That link is needed for our profession to be taken seriously.

The Learning Role — Part-Time, Full-Time, or Side Job — Must Demonstrate Value

The point of the author’s article is to describe the changes he sees occurring in the learning profession. These are troubling changes. If learning roles are seen as side jobs, clearly the organization does not understand the expertise of the role. This trend highlights that senior executives do not see learning professional expertise beyond subject matter expertise. They remain unaware of the need to know how to design a course so that students actually learn the material. They do not respect the skill of using sound instructional practices to create learning programs that successfully develop skills.

Without using sound instructional practices to design programs, the opportunity to be successful at creating behavior change is minimal. Telling someone is NOT teaching someone!

The disconnect between what business executives see as our skill, and the reality of required training skills, has a long history. As learning professionals we have contributed to the disconnect in many ways. For instance, we often emphasize the importance of “student entertainment and engagement” over the focus of acquiring job skills because we want our student end-of-class survey to be favorable.

We try to secure our budgets by cost cutting measures (like moving from ILT to e-learning programs) or by showing the number of courses/activities we conducted during the year. Additionally, instead of highlighting the true results of learning (adding job/organizational capability), we justify our budgets by presenting survey results that rely on others’ opinions of our value.

Respect for the Learning Role Will Change This Trend

If we want to change the trend of  the shrinking role of the learning professional, then we will need to respect our own expertise and educate the business beyond the disconnect.

Organizations want proof that money spent on learning programs (and learning professionals) is worthwhile.

If you’re in a learning role, whether it’s a full-time position, one aspect of your current role, or even as a consultant, you owe it to yourself to master sound instructional design techniques. Only with this knowledge can you demonstrate the value of your program outcomes to the organization.

For L&D professionals, the goal is to make learning effective and measurable so they can provide data to stakeholders showing how learning improved organizational performance.

If you want to succeed in L&D, you need to understand the design skills needed to enable students to learn.  You need sound instructional design tools to accomplish the intended program objectives and measure the achievement. Instructional design methods provide the knowledge base you’ll need to create the chain linking a learning program to job changes and business results.

The Toolkit to Create Measurable Learning

If your goal is to create learning that changes employee behavior, and then measure the outcomes, then you need instructional design expertise.

Trained instructional designers know how to:

  • Incorporate intended outcomes in learning analysis/design
  • Connect learning outcomes to job changes and organizational improvements
  • Design learning targeted to job behavior and corresponding organizational metrics
  • Identify effective instructional methods
  • Identify barriers to application of learning
  • Diagnose and repair design strategies/methods
  • Diagnose and repair learning “points of failure” as it progresses through the organization
  • Measure learning outcomes in terms of behavior changes and metric changes
  • Evaluate the changes to the learner, their job, and the organization due to the learning program

Do you possess those skills? If you recognize a gap in your knowledge as an instructional designer, but want to close that gap, Measurable Instructional Design certification may be the solution. We teach people the foundations of effective instructional design and measurement. With this certification, you’ll learn to create effective learning programs that prove through measurement the value of learning outcomes to business stakeholders. Want more info? Contact us here at eParamus.

Please follow eParamus on LinkedIn and feel free to connect with me, Laura Paramoure, PhD to discuss the learning challenges you face.

Photo copyright: nyul / 123RF Stock Photo


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