At the recent eLearning Guild’s Learning Solutions conference in Orlando, I presented a session on how managers can enable greater subject matter expert collaboration with design and development teams (IDD). I was excited to see a packed room with a very attentive group of eLearning project managers and instructional designers.

Adding to the inspiration were the two conference keynote speakers (Sir Ken Robertson and Jonah Lehrer), who also addressed the value of understanding the tacit knowledge that experts may know but find hard to share.  Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide, talked about his flight simulator experience and the importance of understanding how emotions and hidden patterns play a big part in an expert’s decision-making process.

Getting at those hidden patterns that experts might not consciously realize is an important task of a designer of eLearning programs, especially games and simulations. In his white paper Clark Aldrich discusses a process to get at the invisible systems that experts know from experience. He strongly advocates asking experts to discuss failure, so designers can use it to allow learners to experience the consequence of a bad decision.

My conference speech focused on ways managers can help increase the propensity for experts to share.  I discuss five factors that enable expert and IDD team collaboration.

  1. Flatten power relationships: “You are an expert too.”
  2. Momentum: “Keep team players motivated.”
  3. Communication tools: “Demonstrate efficiency with web meeting, team sites and documents.”
  4. Evaluation: “Use formative evaluation and learner and expert feedback at least two times in each development cycle.”
  5. Project management: “An expert will respect a project that is run by the rules of the triple constraint (Time/Cost/Quality).”

In his keynote address, Sir Ken Robertson, author of The Element, discussed the importance of passion and the role it plays. I also used this term in my talk when I stressed the importance of maintaining project momentum and enthusiasm, especially in the heart and mind of the expert you are working with. I also emphasized the importance of using formative evaluation (disciplined user testing) to engage the expert along with other testers. Using communication tools like web conferencing to encourage efficient project meetings can go a long way at showing you respect the expert’s valuable time.

As we are asked to create more and more complex learning activities, getting experts to share becomes all that more important. As managers, it is our job to consider the factors to enable and maximize collaboration.