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More and more we encounter clients who want to take knowledge from a subject matter expert (SME) and publish it as a learning piece. This makes sense, as we hear from our clients that it is a way to capture knowledge and transfer it to a wider audience. However, we often find this produces the kind of learning that is a series of bullets on PowerPoint slides that are just read aloud to you. So while the knowledge is captured, learners become bored and disengaged.

This doesn’t have to be the case. With a little extra effort, that information can be captured in a way that engages learners and becomes part of your knowledge management library. The secret? Knowing what to put where and working with the SME to make it happen. Here are the top three tips that we find to be valuable ways of working with SMEs to create effective and engaging learning experiences.

Tip 1: Start with a Conversation
When you set aside time to meet with a SME and review the content, don’t start by reviewing the material they’ve already put together. Instead, engage with them by asking them to tell you about how they learned this content when they first started. If the SME has trouble remembering this, ask them to relate an experience about training a new person on the content. Probe for the stumbling blocks—what are the common mistakes or difficult areas for people to understand? What are the things that can just be referenced or looked up? SMEs often feel everything about their topic is relevant, important, and necessary to go into a learning piece. Taking the time to help them sort out the difference will pay long-term dividends.

Tip 2: Map the content
Once you and the SME agree to what content is important to learn and what can be referenced, then turn to what the SME already prepared. Ask them to sort and map their information into “need to learn” and “reference material” buckets. Use additional questions during this discussion to help the SME decide (e.g. How did you learn this?). Do you use this all the time or occasionally? Determine how reference information will be stored and organized; this becomes your knowledge base. Then, focus on chunking the remaining content for the learning experience.

Tip 3: Offer your knowledge of learning as appropriate
Just as a SME truly understands the content, you understand how to help others learn. Guide the SME in creating solid learning objectives and building material that supports that learning. Share examples with them and get them to think both visually and interactively about the content. Discuss ways of getting learners to engage with the content. Offer to co-write a few examples (guided practice) and then have the SME write a few on their own (individual practice). Offer a checklist for SMEs to use as they continue to develop their content (mastery and reference).

Taking the time to work with a SME and provide guidance is a learning experience itself, but one that can reward you, the SME, and the learners with more engaging and effective learning experiences.

Do you have other tips that help you in working with SMEs? We’d love to hear your ideas.

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