Be Aware of Being Aware

You might have faced this situation before: you’re working on an e-learning course, and the subject-matter experts (SMEs) keep wanting to include every single bit of information they have about the subject into the course.

Your job is to filter all this information based on the needs of the learners and the performance goals of the course. You want to stick with what the learners need to know to do their jobs well, while excluding extraneous information that just takes time and attention away from what really matters.

This isn’t always easy. A few years ago, I wrote a blog post with tips on how to negotiate out “nice-to-know” information. In it, I provided some questions to help your SMEs focus on what really matters:

  • Can you give me an example of when this would come up on the job?
  • Describe a situation in which this would help them [insert business result or performance goal here].
  • Would there ever be a situation in which they’d need to rely on this information?
  • What would happen if someone DIDN’T learn this information?

I’ve found these questions to be extremely valuable. But I’ve also found that SMEs often have a trump card they use when they can’t really answer these questions, but still want to include the information:

Well, they just need to be aware of it.

So what do you do with that!? Think of it like going shopping. The salesperson asks if he or she can help you with anything. You say, “I’m just looking.” And sometimes you are just looking. But oftentimes, you just say that as a way to deflect the question. And it usually works—the salesperson often leaves you alone.

Well, we need to make sure that we don’t let “they just need to be aware of it” stop us from doing our jobs. Here’s the bottom line: in workplace learning, no one needs to know anything unless that knowledge can help them do their jobs better. Swap out “know” with “be aware of,” and the same thing holds true. No one needs to be aware of anything unless that awareness might help them do their jobs better. So make that the new direction of your questioning.

  • Can you give me an example of when this awareness would come up on the job?
  • Describe a situation in which this awareness would help them [insert business result or performance goal here].
  • Would there ever be a situation in which they’d need to rely on this awareness?
  • What would happen if someone WASN’T aware of this information?

One of two things is likely to happen. 1) You and the SMEs will come to the conclusion that the learner doesn’t really need the information, and you can leave the information out. 2) You and the SMEs will come to the conclusion that the learner really does need this information. At that point, you’ll have better context to present the information to learners in a way that helps them understand how they’ll use it.

Diane Elkins
Diane Elkins leads Artisan E-Learning, a custom eLearning development company specializing in the use of rapid- development tools. Diane has been in the eLearning industry since 2001, speaks regularly at national conferences about eLearning, and is co-author of the popular E-Learning Uncovered book series.

3 Responses to “Be Aware of Being Aware

  • Melissa Evans
    2 years ago

    Love this as it is so true!

  • Kurt Melander
    1 year ago

    Great advice. Far too often, at least in my case, the SME has been far removed from the actual working environment, yet often wrote some, if not all, of the guidance that’s being used in the field. These walking encyclopedias are usually the worse offenders for the “nice to know” information squeeze. I often ask or specify that if it’s a regulation or official guidance we need to put a link to the published source, that way it’s always up to date (usually) but bandwidth constraints limit how much redundant information we should include. But the above retort from SME’s is right on the mark, for I’ve heard it numerous times, so some excellent advice for new ISDs. It also helps to very clearly define the target audience, for then you can really have more leverage as to why and when the learner would actually need to not only know, but also apply that information in their current job/role.

    • Diane Elkins
      1 year ago

      So true! The larger the audience for a course, the harder it is to make sure the information is applicable.

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