Some charities are already using subject matter experts (SMEs) to deliver learning and are seeing the huge benefits that this brings – and you may be among them. Or you may have considered using them – or used them already without success. Whatever camp you fall into, here are some pros and cons to help you think again about using SMEs with some top tips on how to train them to facilitate learning and make huge cost savings.
So why should you consider using subject matter experts (SME’s), rather than a member of the learning team (if you have a team) or an external trainer or consultant? Here are just a few considerations:
- Your training budget is probably already very limited and may be cut further, and you want to make the most of every penny that you have
- External trainers and consultants, even specialists, won’t necessarily understand the intricacies of how topics apply specifically to your organisation and you want training to be tailored
- Or you might have a lot of external trainers and consultants already coming in, perhaps if you need frequent training as part of compliance, and you want to re-think the best approach
Here are some of the pros and cons of using SMEs to deliver training:
- They have knowledge of the charity sector and your specific organisation
- Using internal expertise promotes a culture where learning isn’t just ‘owned’ by L&D
- The SME is a known and respected part of the organisation
- Training can be tailored to your organisational needs
- It’s an opportunity to build cohesion
- They may have the knowledge but not necessarily the skills to put their subject across in an engaging or impactful way
- Their ‘day job’ pulls them away from delivering learning
- Hearing the same voices all the time leads to a lack of inclusion and diversity
- An external trainer or consultant could potentially bring new, extra knowledge with them
A crucial part of deciding whether to train up your SMEs and use them in this way, is to determine your return on investment. For example, If you use trainers/consultants/facilitators that cost approx £1,000 per day, the cost savings over five years would be considerable.
Let’s (conservatively) assume that every SME delivers two days training per year, which has previously been carried out by external suppliers. If you trained up around 10 SMEs, by the end of five years you could potentially save £100,000. The impact of this figure speaks for itself.
Stockport Homes – which manages the housing stock owned by Stockport Council – introduced a facilitator pathway (alongside other career development pathways) in 2015. The pathway recognises talent and has been a fundamental part of Stockport Homes Group’s learning and development plan. It wanted to strengthen personal growth and also generate efficiencies. Part of the initial needs analysis identified that it could potentially save the £1,000 per day fee that external consultants were charging.
Using subject matter experts, however, needs to be carefully planned with an appropriate programme for their development into facilitators and not just presenters.
Training subject matter experts is not the same as training trainers. They don’t necessarily have knowledge of how people learn or speak L&D language (although the latter may be a good thing!). To train your subject matter experts you’ll need to create or select the right programme which will:
- Be pitched at the right level for the SMEs – with no L&D jargon
- Role model great practice, which is creative and engaging
- The whole programme must walk-the-talk every step of the way; from initial engagement to evaluation
- Provide simple models to follow to make analysis, design, delivery and evaluation straightforward
- Give them confidence that they can facilitate (not just present) and make the learning engaging
- Inspire them to quickly design relevant and interesting activities, without the need to buy in ‘activities’
- Help them deliver learning that is both focused on organisational needs while being brain friendly
Here are my top 10 tips to help turn SMEs into great facilitators:
- Introduce a consultancy model to help them hone in on the actual problem.
- Use a simple to follow, model of learning. For example, The 5 Secrets of Accelerated Learning, or David Meier’s 4 Phase accelerated learning cycle.
- Use Blooms taxonomy to determine the type of learning (knowledge, skills or attitudes) as well as the level of learning.
- Help them to understand the differences and similarities between adult and children’s learning principles.
- Help them understand the differences between training and facilitation techniques, to help them create empowered learners.
- Use a framework for creating robust objectives like Robert Mager’s PCS Framework.
- Introduce some creativity techniques to design engaging activities.
- Give them some knowledge to help them overcome some commonly encountered learning barriers.
- Incorporate a simple evaluation model like Kirkpatrick’s.
- Give them ideas on how to engage with stakeholders to imbed the learning.
About Krystyna Gadd
Krystyna Gadd is the founder of How to Accelerate Learning and author of How Not To Waste Your Money On Training. She has been running the Learning Loop programme for the Facilitator Pathway at Stockport Homes since 2015. Her engineering background gives her a practical no-nonsense approach. Combined with her creative streak, she manages to excite people about even the driest of subjects. Her love of the L&D profession shines through all she does and she has worked with practitioners, trainers, facilitators, line managers and subject matter experts to help them become more performance focused and creative. In her 30+ years in L&D she has worked as an IT trainer, soft skills trainer and now runs her own consultancy in the UK. Her experience has been broad, spanning all sectors and industries.
Find out more at www.howtoacceleratelearning.co.uk