I was recently asked to help find a subject matter expert for a major technical training programme. My response was that the subject was covered in excellent detail in at least five major textbooks written by world-class experts (the real SMEs). Of course, the company in question now insist on using their own SME, who is third rate, and is now regurgitating stuff from the world-class authors. Led to me to reflect…..
SMEs rarely the best
SMEs are often unnecessary, as they’re rarely the ‘best’, usually just the closest or best in that organisation. What most organisations need in an injection of expertise from the outside, beyond what they already know.
SMEs can be egomaniacs
SMEs often come with huge egos – this often gets in the way of good learning. They want to impress rather than contribute.
SMEs are poor on delivery
They’ll pontificate, read your stuff and rubbish its accuracy, but they often fail to deliver good written content and often miss their deadlines – especially when they have a fulltime job being an expert.
SMEs don’t get learning
University lecturers, especially the esteemed Professors, often fail to understand the basic principles of learning, providing too much detail, resulting in cognitive overload. They assume they’re experts in learning and they’re not.
SMEs don’t get design
They want to control the design process as they regard themselves as experts on interactivity, media mix and video production etc.
Good SMEs are recent learners
Try using some recent learners as SMEs, they’re cheaper, better understand the learning problems (they’ve just been through them) that surround the content, have less of an ego, are cheaper and deliver because they have less responsibilities in the organisation. Carol Twig found this in her huge research project in HE – post-grads were often better teachers than the full-time staff.
Good SME is often a book
Real SMEs have usually crystallised their knowledge in books, articles etc. The best SME is therefore often a book, web content etc
If you have to use them - make it contractual!
Limit their sphere of activity by egtting them to sign a strict schedule, along with agreements on delivery, format for comments, what they have to do and what they don’t do (learning and interactive design).