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Don't Outsource eLearning Content Creation

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Scenario:  Your a CLO or learning leader and your operations teams have called upon you to develop some custom elearning modules to boost their teams performance.  Your L&D team runs lean and does not maintain a fully staffed eLearning development team so you call upon a training consultant for custom elearning development and tell the ops team you have it covered.  

You soon learn after meeting with your corporate training consultant that you need to designate a subject matter expert(SME) for elearning content creation!!  This was unexpected and now you will need to explain to the team why they should not outsource eLearning content creation.  Here is how to justify keeping the SME's closely engaged in eLearning content development...

1 – Nobody knows quite like the SME

Subject matter experts are just that, experts.  They have a working knowledge of the topic and can explain it in detail.  They have access to resources and tools which an instructional designer may not.  Your training consultant or instructional designer might be an excellent writer but their lack of depth on the topic will likely impair their ability to expose the most valuable topics and points.  eLearning Instructional designers help stage content for learner uptake through use of images, timing, and reinforcement tools Effectively teaching a topic requires superior understanding.  

2 – SME’s have probably made the same mistakes!

Experts become experts in part by making mistakes.  Take an example of eLearning for hotel front desk staff.  If your SME is the front desk manager then that person has likely forgotten to schedule the wake up call, neglected to ask the guest if they had a good trip so far, etc.  They have also had to deal with irate customers and understand from experience what works and does not work in working with them.  These experiences are so valuable and would be critical to front desk training.  An instructional design consultant would not be able to fully document and capture the nuance and relative importance of each of these experiences.   The most frequent errors, issues, mistakes that your learners make are in fact a proxy for your learning objectives and only the SME can put those in the forefront of your training.

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3 – Checks and Balances  

A good training consultant will deploy instructional designers to your project.  They will spend a few days or weeks understanding the operation and assessing the current state of the organization and any gaps in learner knowledge.  The training consulting team, instructional designers and project managers will document the learning objectives and share this with you, the client.  Hopefully this has been done in coordination with the SME’s so that the learning objectives reflect the SME’s knowledge of the topic. 

Taking this input process a step further and having the SME write content and hand it back to the instructional designer, serves as a great way to validate the learning objectives.  Instructional designers will of course review content and add their instructional design elements.  During that review the instructional design team should ensure each of the learning objectives that have been documented by the SME.  The designer should highlight any new learning objectives are inquire about why some may have been omitted.

How to do it right!

So we have established that there are at least 3 good reasons to have your SME’s write content.  But how far should they take it?  What is the right format and level of detail? 

The answer to these questions can vary considerably based on the writing skill of the SME, involvement in the project and to an extent the computer literacy.  The SME’s content inputs can take on the following forms:

1 – Content Discovery – The SME will only look for existing content, imagery and media.

2 - Reciting/Story telling – SME recites their knowledge and shares stories and scenarios that are captured by the Training consultants

3 – Outline Development – SME expands the training outline and each learning objective into a few bullet points. 

4 – Storyboarding – SME creates or repurposes content to write storyboard and includes relevant images

5 – Storyboard with Speaker notes – SME creates or repurposes content to write the storyboard.  Also generates the ‘speaker notes’ that the eLearning voiceover artist would read from.

The above 5 options begin with lower/less engagement from the SME and end with higher engagement and more overall effort from the SME.  The options also reflect to some extent the computer literacy, writing ability and degree of involvement in the process. 

If you are hiring a corporate training consultant to manage the process of developing eLearning from inception to delivery it’s essential to consider the value of maintaining an active role in the content development process.  Deploying at least one SME to discover, develop and curate content before it goes to instructional design and eLearning development can really serve to improve the effectiveness and relevancy of your content.

PETER MATAMALA