Thursday, March 17, 2016

eLearning: SME’s & the Creative Process

Classroom training adds reoccurring commitment
of  time, effort & cost
Instructional design and creative direction are essential to the creation of intuitive eLearning; they help empower the learner to explore content and they create a desire to engage. This becomes a difficult process when most interactive content and Subject Matter Experts are born in the crucible of the ivory tower learning paradigm. The Subject Matter Expert (SME), or teacher and the creative development team represent two very different sensibilities when trying to create an intuitive learning environment.

For the SME, each topic is carefully detailed, researched and written down in a formalized text of some sort that can be agreed on and finalized, often by a peer committee review process. At least that’s the typical classroom style learning process we have grown up with. 

But this is changing as we go from classroom to virtually any place to learn online, without a teacher or instructor to guide us. Regardless of the source of the content the resulting “knowledge guide” used to develop eLearning is enshrined at some point in a traditional written form such as textbooks, subject matter expert content briefs, studies, instructions, guidelines and regulations. The content is often very specific, structured and unwavering in identifying the basic tenants of any topic to ensure that there is an agreed upon knowledge base.
The ability to deliver this carefully defined information in a meaningful way has largely depended on the environment and the person delivering the information. The “classroom teacher” often chooses what to accentuate, when to emphasize certain content and how to best illustrate key elements of content to reinforce comprehension of the basic principles of a concept. With the advent of eLearning, both the environment and the teacher involved in delivery of learning have been changed, embedded or even eliminated for the most part. As learning delivery methods have moved to an online environment, so too has the medium moved to a different kind of learning development process.  

The question now becomes who or what has replaced the “on the ground” teacher’s role in this new method of learning? How is the textbook knowledge being delineated in online learning and how are we guiding the learner? The surprising answer to these questions is that much of the responsibility for interpreting content through the interactive process has fallen to the eLearning instructional designer and the creative director. They now fulfill the role of interpreting the information to create a learning environment that allows for intuitive comprehension. The overall benefit in this change is that, no longer is the learner at mercy of the teacher’s choices. The learner now has an expanded role in interacting with the content to choose to explore knowledge that reflects individual interest within a topic.

In many ways this is a much more dynamic learning environment where learners can begin to explore the content in meaningful ways while still absorbing the basic principle designed into the learning programs content. The unfortunate pitfall in all of this, just as in the teacher enabled learning environment, the effectiveness of an online learning program is largely based on the skill of the interpreter, and in this case it is the interactive development team. Understanding adult learning, digital media production and interactive design are crucial if the Self-Paced eLearning or Blended learning is going to be successful.

In the eLearning development cycle, unlike within classroom learning, the development pipeline from concept to delivery is much shorter and the subject matter expert can exert much more influence on the content, or so it would seem. However, in reality the typical subject matter expert has only the knowledge of the 2D representation of the information, i.e., books, documentation, practical application etc., while online learning is now representing the content in a more 3D format which cannot be effectively managed and directed by the subject matter expert. They must rely on the skill and ability of the design team to creatively interpret the information in an interactive form that engages and creates comprehension. The more a subject matter expert tries to impose structure on the content the less intuitive, creative and engaging the content becomes, ultimately subordinating comprehension to structure and minimizing the learner’s ability to control the learning experience.

In thinking about this you may have noticed this process is not dissimilar to the video production cycle where there are many influencing factors and unknowns in the development process even though we have a clear understanding of what final product we would like to arrive at. Ultimately the production team including the instructional designer, writer, creative director, etc. must be trusted to influence the final production and achieve the aforementioned goals of the learning experience. Not surprisingly, like film and televisions production, subject matter experts can have a significant and positive influence on an eLearning production but not without great cost, time and effort.

In short if you want a great eLearning production and you want to manage time and cost effectively, you need to recognize your role in that process and make sure you have a great creative team that understands digital media production (often this kind of talent comes out of the television industry), adult learning and interactive design. A successful eLearning experience is less about a specific process that can be carefully managed, but more about an intuitive process that generates a creative understanding of the content that gives the learner the power to explore and the desire to engage.

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