This is an excerpt 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) discuss the first of three fundamental principles for success in the training room.
Trainers and Learners Are Equals With a Shared Purpose
Many SMEs come into the training process with ideas about teaching that they learned in school. This is natural, given that most of us have years of experience in academic classrooms and have a clear sense of how that teacher-student relationship works. However, training in the business environment is not the same thing.
Here’s an example of what we mean. A few years ago, we were working with a SME on the delivery of his training session. He was struggling with the notion that he needed to focus more on helping learners understand what he was delivering. “The way I look at it,” he said, “it’s my job to deliver the content, and it is their job to understand it.” If this seems familiar to you, it’s because all of us at one point or another have been in the same position as his learners.
Let’s look at this in more detail. Imagine a large university lecture hall. At the front of the room is a well-known professor, famous for the research she has done in her field. This professor has credibility, but she’s an ineffective teacher. Her lectures are a regurgitation of notes written years before, and the slides on the screen are difficult to see and understand. During class, students take notes. As they do this, they try to understand what they hear and, probably most important, figure out what will be included on the test. In this environment, students are responsible for their own learning. Their evaluation, the grade they earn, is dependent on how well they manage it.
Because SMEs grew up with this type of learning, it feels natural to apply it in the business setting. However, it’s an inappropriate approach for some fundamental reasons, beyond what we commonly discuss as “adult learning.” To understand why, let’s compare academic and business settings from three perspectives: who holds the power in the room, how learning is evaluated, and how learning is used or applied.