Magazine article Talent Development

Five Considerations for Selecting SMEs: Subject Matter Experts Can Make or Break a Training Initiative. Here's How to Pick the Right People for the Job

Magazine article Talent Development

Five Considerations for Selecting SMEs: Subject Matter Experts Can Make or Break a Training Initiative. Here's How to Pick the Right People for the Job

Article excerpt

The process of selecting subject matter experts (SMEs) for a training project often is left to chance, or at the very least not given the level of attention paid to other elements of the design process. It is sometimes easier to "take what you can get" than to do what it takes to make informed decisions about your SMEs. However, it's important to identify the best partner for your training project.

I have found that the five most important factors to consider when selecting SMEs are

* relevance of experience

* depth of experience

* timeliness of experience

* location of experience

* training experience.

Relevance of experience

Whether your content is simple and generalized or technical and complex, relevance is something you must consider. Even the most intelligent and experienced SMEs may not have quite the experience you need for a project.

For example, imagine you are providing training for a new software package that your organization has purchased. There is pressure to tap the in-house IT department to deliver the training because the IT team supports the technology needs of the organization anyway, and because using in-house resources is much cheaper. They don't really support software now, but they can learn it quickly enough. Sound familiar?

This is where relevance of experience becomes the voice of reason in this process. Maybe your in-house folks can master the basics of the software, but they serve as hardware experts. It's important to separate hardware expertise from software expertise. Many times decision makers fall into this trap, either because they don't understand this difference or because they're operating in a budgetary climate that demands thrift.

Depth of experience

Although relevance may be the most important factor to many designers in picking a SME, it's also important to drill down to the real knowledge a SME possesses of the training content. Depth of experience only can be obtained by direct and usually lengthy exposure to the content. I've seen this point of distinction many times in my work with SMEs, and it usually becomes important as you move from simple to complex objectives in your content continuum.

In the previous software example, considering depth of experience would help you decide between a SME who has experience in the category of software that the package falls into, and one who actually has experience in your software package. Software certainly is software in a general sense, but this software is new to the organization and has a unique feature that will not be familiar to those with no experience in the package.

Choosing a SME because he has general software knowledge may mean that you are paying for this person to learn the software himself on your dollar.

Timeliness of experience

When choosing SMEs, timeliness has to be considered. I doubt you can find an area of content that hasn't changed in the past 20 years, much less in the past 10 years or even the past 10 months. Content usually changes much more quickly than non-SMEs realize.

Timeliness means the difference between "old school" course content--which many of us are familiar with--and up-to-date course content. SMEs are sometimes chosen for projects because they have been around an organization for years and are liked and respected by everyone. …

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