Designing for Busy People at Work: from “Effective SMEs”

This post is the sixth in a series of excerpts from “Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide for Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning.” In this excerpt Dale Ludwig (Turpin Communication’s Founder) and Greg Owen-Boger (Turpin’s VP) redefine “adult learners” as “busy people at work.”


Effective SMEs: A Trainer's Guide for Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate LearningLet’s begin by refining our understanding of business learners. Learning theory tells us that adult learners need to feel safe, understood, and respected in the classroom. Place adult learners in the business environment, and we can see that they also need to trust that the trainer is going to deliver relevant information and be respectful of their time. So let’s think of businesspeople not simply as “adult learners” but as “busy people at work.” There are three reasons for this:

  • Busy people at work learn new things because it’s part of their job, and they are motivated to learn for practical reasons. But, during instructor-led training, they are not in control of what they learn or when.
  • Because of this, busy people at work crave efficiency. They do not want to feel that their time in the classroom (and away from their regular duties) is wasted. They want relevant learning, delivered efficiently.
  • Finally, businesspeople understand that the learning they do is, ultimately, for the benefit of the business. What they learn needs to be placed within the context of not only their own responsibilities, but also the business as a whole. Questions like, “Why is this important to the organization?” and “Why do we do things this way?” need to be answered.

Most SMEs understand the needs of busy people at work because they, too, are busy businesspeople. They need help, however, applying that understanding to training delivery. Doing that begins with instructional design.


For more information or to order the book, go to ATD Press, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

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