My job includes being an IT division HR director at a university. We are just wrapping up a three year, multi-phased project to switch to a new ERP including modules in Finance, HR, and Student Applications. We needed SMEs and IDs, but the IDs needed to have a prior working knowledge of the subject of the module they were working on.
We tried to deviate from this by hiring an ID with a masters in IDT. He had created a lot of training and instructional materials for university classes, but he did not have working knowledge of finance operations. He failed miserably because he could not fathom what the SMEs were saying. He could not moderate user groups to gather data or test the instructional material he was creating. We had to let him go. The IDs who have faired the best are the ones with business in their backgrounds. Not just ID in their backgrounds. The ones who struggled had little previous knowledge or experience with the module subject.
So I agree with the statement that IDs in conjunction with SMEs are the way to go, but the ID needs some “priming” when dealing with certain subjects. Sometimes the learning curve is so steep that it slows the process to an unacceptable pace and the resulting training materials lack depth and insight.
I wonder if the problem in this case isn’t so much about content expertise as it is about being able to communicate with the SMEs effectively. Someone who didn’t have background knowledge in finance operations but was able to quickly get ramped up, at least enough to ask good questions, might have been successful. This example sounds like someone who couldn’t learn the jargon quickly and couldn’t communicate effectively with that audience.
I’ve always kind of looked at the content expertise as a bonus; it can help you come up with real-life examples and makes it easier to speak the same language as the SMEs. But I’ve never viewed it as a requirement to be successful, just “nice to have.” I also wonder if an instructional designer with more content expertise and experience would be less effective in the role of “naive learner.” As Lance stated earlier in the discussion, “SME’s forget where they have come from and start talking way beyond the level required for a beginner.” It seems someone with less expertise could have an easier time being an advocate for beginning learners. But maybe that isn’t required.
What do you think? How important is content expertise in the field for instructional designers? Must you have experience as a salesperson to develop successful sales training? Is it different for different subjects, where maybe it is required for some but not for others? Is it possible to have too much content expertise?