In eLearning development, we are often dependent on SMEs to provide inputs. They have a valuable role to play since they know the domain very well, have explored and experienced varied situations, and most importantly, have invested efforts to become an expert in the area. However, they don’t necessarily know what to share and how to share with novice learners. In reality, in most cases, they cannot do so since their knowledge is stacked neatly in models such that it is automatized.
“Teachers often suffer this illusion – the calculus instructor who finds calculus so easy that she can no longer place herself in the shoes of the student who is just starting and struggling with the subject” –
Brown, McDaniel, Roediger – Make it Stick.
Experts suffer from what’s known as the ‘curse of knowledge (aka ‘curse of expertise’) – Wikipedia Link
Learning Designers, in contrast, are (or should be) skilled to unpack the models SMEs hold and present the same more appropriately to novice learners. Asking SMEs to create courses themselves using an ‘easy’ authoring tool sounds like a great idea, but it isn’t. Some SMEs are certainly exceptions, but that is what they are exceptions.
In the book The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, Karl Kapp lists differences between Novices and Experts –
“In comparing the knowledge structures of experts with the knowledge structures of novices, differences have been observed in both the nature of their knowledge and their problem-solving strategies. For experts, the knowledge structures represent phenomena in the domain of higher-order principles. In other words, experts represent problems at a deep structural level in terms of basic principles within a domain; novices represent problems in terms of surface or superficial characteristics”
For example – “A novice learning professional focuses on determining which delivery method is best for instruction, while an expert considers whether or not the situation described by the manager can be solved by a formal learning intervention.”
Some key differences between experts and novices
- – When confronted with a problem, experts tend to work forward, from the known to the unknown while novices work backward.
- – Experts are more efficient at searching their memory because large portions of content are “bundled” or “chunked” for easy retrieval. Not the case with novices
- – Experts often take shortcuts as they have chunked and automated groups of steps together.
To sum up, while the contribution of SMEs is invaluable in the development of eLearning courses, they may not be best suited for creating courses themselves. Learning designers are better placed to create more meaningful courses by appropriately leveraging SMEs’ expertise.