Medical Educators – What Will They Think of My Small Project Collaboration Model?

I am speaking this coming Sunday at 4:00pm at the Alliance for CME conference in Orlando, FL on “Developing Interactive Online Education: Engage the Subject Matter Expert via Micro-Collaboration.” Conference attendees represent the association’s 2,200+ membership base of professionals committed to educating medical professionals. Only about 10% of these CME professionals are actually doctors.

After interviewing a doctor and a former nurse, now a performance improvement specialist, I realized how my micro-collaboration model is relevant to CME professionals who often work with busy medical professionals to create educational products.  In order to build in more learner engagement within our online activities, we need to engage and increase collaboration with the SMEs. In no situation is this more challenging than working with medical experts.

My model suggests that designers and developers of online education view collaboration with experts through five lenses.  First, it is important to understand the power dynamics.  Doctors can be full of hubris.  There is a joke goes that it is not evidence based medicine but “eminence based medicine”.  And some experts are even considered rock stars in their field.  This presents a personal power imbalance when working with expert doctors.  My interviewees tell me that there are two main ways of approaching this. One is to position yourself as a professional educator by explaining your product development process and your credentials for doing a needs analysis and for writing learning objectives.  You have the templates, those are your tools.

Another way to gain the respect of the expert is to offer to help them gain prestige through publishing or positioning them on a team with a rock star.  Positioning yourself as a professional means making sure you take care of the structure of the project by appointing a project manager who knows how to run a project.  You might have to wear two hats but it is critical that the busy expert knows there is a schedule and process that respects their limited time.  This might mean you record the expert discussing the topic with other experts, transcribe and repackage the content for their approval.

The third frame of my model asks you to consider how to develop a shared language with the expert. You might take a look at the doctor and view the medical expert’s brain as a rubric cube to solve.  Use communication tools to solve this puzzle while you earn respect for what you know. Make the discovery process and expertise sharing process go smoother by over communicating dynamically.  This means being able to brainstorm, interview, and otherwise find ways to prompt passionate communication and sharing.  Using a mind mapping software can help. Consider using flowchart software or whiteboard to make sure you are on the right track.  Use professionally produced graphics and art boards to help communicate your concepts.

You can also enable collaboration by using formal formative evaluation.  This forth frame involves getting the expert involved with user testing evaluation while you are developing iterations of the educational product.  Nothing like the goose bump moment of seeing users excited about the product you have built together.  Also try to provide resources for continuous improvement of the educational product.  As many medical professionals like to say: “What is true today is not true tomorrow.”  Receive an extended commitment from the expert under the notion of quality improvement.

Lastly, my last frame of my model –momentum– should keep you aware of the passion level of all team members, especially the expert.  I like to suggest the team maintain a “Spiking Mo Schedule”.  An example of spiking MO might be presenting the computer program’s interface on art boards.  Anything that gets your experts excited and engaged is a momentum builder for your project.

Learn more about my micro-collaboration model.