SME-Dependent Content Is Broken – Tip #195

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At which point do learners rely less on formal learning structure and start with self-driven learning while at work? When is the pivot?

There are multiple reasons why learners shift their dependence from formal training to self-driven learning. It could be to cope with the changes in their industry, to upskill, or to stay competitive. But, whatever the reason, today’s learning landscape has necessitated that learners take the lead in their learning and development and for L&D designers to take on more than a facilitator role.

This role includes matching the learners’ learning needs to the appropriate training materials and content. However, typical training content, i.e., those developed by SMEs, won’t cut it anymore.

The Problem with SME-Dependent Content

Most formal learning is limited because of their very nature – that is, being produced by SMEs or the designers themselves. These are the challenging issues I see with that.

1 Broken Production Process
Let’s take on a business point of view and think of formal learning content production this way: The supply of SMEs is always limited. The production of formal content is always inadequate and could not keep up with the demand for more knowledge being shared. Therefore, the production process is broken.

This is the most basic law of economics in action – the law of supply and demand. The cost of producing SME-dependent content is high but and the production is slow. As a result, learners’ demand are unmet.
2 Pseudo SMEs
Because of the limited production source from SMEs, content becomes isolated and remote.

Many SMES are theorists and academicians – people who have the knowledge but mostly not the experience. We call them pseudo SMEs.

Despite their lack of experience, however, pseudo SMEs are prone to arrogance and self-glorification. So, when SMEs are not available, it could be due to these reasons:

1 Distance from practical experience
2 No depth of knowledge
3 NoArrogance
4 Lack of interest
And, because companies have no specific positions for SMEs, they tend to pull whoever is available to create training content—not a good or smart way to go about it.

Develop Experience-Sharing Culture

There is a need to break down this model that is dependent on SMEs and recognize that expertise is abundant from everyone on the job.

Imagine this: If we ask everyone at work how they will solve a certain problem, we are more likely to get reliable answers faster than checking with SMEs.

This brings us to the fundamental value of encouraging a culture of open sharing of experiences. This is how most of us learn on the job today – we ask people.

With technologies, we can make the process of sharing experience even faster.

The rapid growth of technologies opens up a lot of opportunities for learners to learn faster than ever before. But this does not include your LMS. Let’s refrain from using your LMS because this is where SME-dependent courses live. When SMEs are around, people will most likely be looking at the them for answers rather than use their own experiences or share their experiences to help others learn.

We need to redefine SMEs as “those who can do something and know something,” with expertise no matter how big or small, but can contribute now and today.


The Library of Economics and Liberty/Al Ehrbar. Supply
Shelley Osborne. Evolving learning strategies to keep pace with the modern workforce. Training Journal, June 6, 2018
Tip #36 – Why Experience Results in Superior Learning
Tip #75 – Insight Sharing – How They “Meet and Mate”
Tip #181 – The Conversation Loop: Foster Learning Through Experience Sharing

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”