Align Subject Matter Experts with Business Needs for Better Learning

This blog has previously covered the importance of aligning learning with the needs of the business. Here’s how to work with subject matter experts (SMEs) for maximum effect.

The word learning, which has largely replaced training in the corporate lexicon, suggests “knowledge for its own sake.” However, to justify its existence, corporate learning needs to serve the organization’s stated goals and should be based on what works, according to Shlomo Ben-Hur, Bernard Jaworski, and David Gray in MIT Sloan Management Review.

“The fact is that much of the investment and effort that organizations spend on learning is focused on the wrong things,” according to the authors of the MIT research article. “There’s too much focus on learning and not enough on meaningful development.”

Instructional designers can play an important role in managing this important shift. When working with SMEs to develop courses, learning and development leaders can drive value by first considering the needs of the business.

First off, SMEs need to be brought in to learning project long before any instructional design begins. If the SME feels that he or she is simply brought on to complete a task of limited or uncertain value, then the quality of the content will suffer.  

SMEs are already overscheduled and have precious free time for extraneous projects. Indeed, if they are knowledgeable and competent in their field, they are perhaps already making significant contributions to sales or product development, and the idea of creating in-house courses may hold little allure.

instructional design

Therefore, it is imperative for instructional designers to interact with SMEs and their managers before the idea of course creation even begins. Learn more about the business unit — its goals, KPIs, skills, competencies — and decide if a course even makes sense.  

As discussions develop, you can move to the more tactical areas, such as the employees who would most benefit from the learning, how success will be measured, and what, if any, future learning would need to take place to ensure retention of newly-acquired skills.

As you involve the business unit in these early discussions, you are assuming a role less as an instructional designer and more as a trusted advisor to the business. The SME will understand the business value of the learning, as will the employees taking the courses.

According to the MIT researchers, “If corporate learning and development is to remain relevant, learning leaders must shoulder the burden of developing the company’s talent capabilities and supporting strategic priorities.”

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Align Subject Matter Experts with Business Needs for Better Learning