Your First Meeting With Your Subject Matter Expert

01 Target Audience

(01.1) Anyone involved in e-Learning, social learning commissioning, Design, and related roles.

02 Executive Summary

(02.1) The SME, and your relationship with them, is crucial to the timely development of learning resources. Effective initial planning, and ensuring mutual understanding of what is involved, will ensure the most effective outcome.

03 Structure of This Article

04 Introduction
05 Your First Meeting
06 And Finally

04 Introduction

(04.1) The Subject Matter Expert (SME) is the life-blood of Instructional Designers (IDs). SMEs provide the knowledge and experience to enable the ID to create learning resources. The SME is, therefore, of great importance, requiring the support, and consideration of the ID.

(04.2) This blog summarises my experience in working with SMEs, and the important lessons they have taught.

(04.3) This blog assumes the SME is not directly involved in the process of instructional design.

05 Your First Meeting

(05.1) It is likely you, as the ID, have been given the contact details of your SME, and have been charged with establishing contact, to get the 'learning resource' creation process started.

(05.2) The first, second, and third, most important points to remember are - Assume nothing, assume nothing, assume nothing.

(05.3) Your first meeting is your opportunity to plan, prepare, and make a good impression on your SME.

05.1 Contact details

(05.1.1) Write a list of all contact details you can think of:
  • Work mobile;
  • Home mobile;
  • DIRECT work number (a generic switchboard number can be a serious obstacle to making urgent contact);
  • E-mail address (work and home);
  • Skype address, FaceTime address, and so on.
(05.1.2) Get as many of these details completed as possible.

(05.1.3) Make sure you note any circumstances under which the SME does not wish to be contacted.

05.2 Availability

(05.2.1) You may have been told the SME is available for the duration of the 'learning resource' creation process. Assume nothing.

(05.2.2) Go through your diary with the SME and note any dates the SME will not be available.

(05.2.3) Be sure to ask if the SME has holiday booked, or if they will be away from their normal place of work for things such as conferences, or voluntary work, as these can be easily forgotten.

(05.2.4) Make sure you pass this information to your project manager, so they can plan effectively. If necessary, ensure the SMEs 'project representative' receives the information, so that all knowledge/expectations are shared.

(05.2.5) You may have been told, the SME has received a full brief on what is required. Assume nothing.

05.3 Process aide-mémoire

(05.3.1) Produce a brief document outlining the key processes for creating the 'learning resource', and the other resources you will use together. For example:
  • Notes on developing First Drafts, the inclusion of media, copyright compliance, first review, successive review(s), QA process, final sign-off, publication, live-testing;
  • Media production - Ensure your SME understands the time constraints relating to production. For example, your graphics team may be off-shore, limitations for producing animations, and video;
  • Social media - Explain how Social Media is integrated into the learning resource (if available);
  • Notes on how to present the first draft content. For example, using plain text files rather than PowerPoint. With PowerPoint, SMEs can spend valuable time making the content 'look pretty' and laying-out;
  • Notes on developing questions, scenarios, simulations. I suggest my SMEs make notes of questions they want to ask as they progress with developing the content, but to insert them after they have finished the first draft content. That way, questions are less likely to need re-writing later, and the SME can check the questioning makes sense, once they have finished their edits to the first draft;
  • Information about on-line resources, such as 'sand-pits' for review purposes, location of social media elements;
  • The SME may need to be aware of certain authoring standards, such as accessibility, or translation. 

05.4 Your supportive role

(05.4.1) You cannot be sure what the SME has been told about your Supportive Role, unless you make it clear. Assume nothing.

(05.4.2) You should ensure your SME knows you are available to discuss any issues, no matter how small they may appear. Make it clear when you may be contacted, and any planned commitments you may have when you cannot be reached.

(05.4.3) Remember - If you make a commitment to do something by a given date, do it.

(05.4.4) If something unforeseen happens to prevent you meeting your commitment, inform your SME as soon as possible, or arrange for someone to do it for you, and give a new date for fulfilling your commitment, if possible.

(05.4.5) Remember, your primary goals, for your SME, are to be supportive, available, and reliable. Your SME must quickly learn to trust you.

06 And Finally

06.1 Use of this article

(06.1.1) Any part, or all, of this article may be copied or ‘hyperlinked to’ for non-commercial purposes. Any copied content or hyperlink to include the following, please…

Your First Meeting With Your Subject Matter Expert
by Tim Cliffe Copyright 2015-09

(06.1.2) Where use will be for commercial purposes, seek authorisation, including details of proposed use, via the contact form at http://www.TimCliffe.uk/contact/

06.2 Your thoughts

(06.2.1) I very much look forward to reading your comments on this important issue. Please add your thoughts below.


Pervasive MCDs Pervasive M-learning

Just how widespread is mobile-learning (m-learning)?

I wrote this blog two years ago, but never published it. It makes interesting (historical perspective) reading today.

Formal m-learning is not widespread, yet. However, it is claimed, by 2016 100% of K12 students in the USA will use mobile communication devices (MCDs) in their education.

Informal m-learning is as pervasive as MCDs. If someone uses a MCD to search for an answer or information on the web or other network, m-learning is taking place.

A very few boring statistics

It is claimed 77% of the world’s population owns a MCD. Even if this is a hefty 50% over estimation, it still means over half the world’s population has a MCD.

In some African countries, almost every student owns a MCD, but very few own a computer.

Android is king in the EU, USA, and Australia. Apple accounts for 16% of sales in the EU, while Samsung have 45% of the market as of the date of this post.

So, how useful can m-learning be in learning?

Consider, how often you use your MCD, or see others use their MCD, to access on-line information? I think we can all agree the answer is somewhere in the region of ‘very useful indeed’. The next question must be ‘what can we (teachers/trainers) do to take advantage of the benefits presented by m-learning?

Real examples of students putting m-learning into action with MCDs

  • Living in regional areas with access to limited public transport use MCD to download study guides;
  • Working ‘in the field’ download readings and journals for review to support ‘professional’ practice, or listen to audio formats whilst driving to ‘work’;
  • Attending via Distance Learning. Select from a list of prescribed texts by reading samples on-line, then purchase the chosen eBook, which is conveniently to-hand at all times;
  • Students with families. Access complete ‘set readings’ on-line and, pod casts of lectures;
  • Use Digital Object Management System (DOMS) to access resources posted by staff and students. Links to DOMS resources are easily shared;
  • Access e-learning and chat with other students in real time;
  • Update e-Portfolio and add details of any emergent/unintentional learning;
  • Use MCD to take photos of geo-tagged pictures from study guides (e.g. plants identified ‘in the field’) and upload later to discuss with peers thereby supporting contingent learning (reacting to environment/experience) and situational learning (‘in the field’);
  • Studying arts subjects, whilst out-and-about, can share photos via, e.g. Flickr, make comments, and discuss progression. Context Aware learning is strongly supported;
  • Access educational games designed to explain complex ideas in a way that removes the barriers that often appear when a student encounters one of those ‘I just don’t get it’ topics;
  • Respond to classroom/virtual classroom polls then discuss why particular options are favoured over others. The subject matter immediately becomes relevant;
  • Use Twitter to engage in live discussions with remote ‘class mates’. The character limitation requires participants to effectively and concisely express opinions;
  • Share experiences ‘in the field’ and engage in discussion via a blog, thus supporting authentic learning (meaningful learning tasks related to learning goals);
  • Use a dedicated Fresher Facebook page to get to know and support other students through the first weeks;
  • Use SMS to share information about new on-line resources where Internet services may be less reliable;
  • Use Web Application Clients to aggregate and share content in one central location, allowing students to use familiar tools to gain access (personalised learning);
  • Submit on-line multiple choice tests and receive immediate feedback;
  • Access assessment materials on-line and submit comments for feedback by students and staff;
  • Access on-line support tools, information, and interactive tutorials from anywhere at any time;
  • During the Fresher period, Kindles pre-loaded with required text books, guides to academic practices, references, campus maps, and so on, can be borrowed.

Remember, whatever works for the student/learner can also work for the teacher/trainer.

What does this mean for the ‘student/teacher’ relationship?

Some argue m-learning and the use of social networking in learning will transform the ‘student/teacher’ relationship beyond recognition. The premise being the weight of responsibility for learning will shift dramatically from the ‘teacher’ to the ‘learner’.

Such a proposition is overly simplistic. There is no doubt the relationship will evolve and adapt, but it must not be allowed to be transformed as some have advocated. My argument is best summarised as 'why do children need parents?'

Mobile learning is not new, quite the contrary. Mobile learning was almost certainly one of the earliest methods of knowledge and skill transfer. Long before schools came into being. Masters and their apprentices would roam; discovering, practicing, sharing, and debating. In fact, the ‘traditional’ concept of learning; a classroom containing a black/whiteboard, a teacher, and a class, is very new. It has existed, for the masses, for less than 100 years.

What is different about m-learning in the digital on-line age is not the fact the master teaches and directs, and the apprentice attends and explores, it is how the roles are manifest. M-learning will not just turn back the educational practice clock to (the modern equivalent of) a master/apprentice relationship, it will do so, not on a one-to-one basis in real time, but on a many-to-many basis in real time, without regard for distance or the relative location of the masters or the apprentices, for the first time in human history.

Of equal importance is the capacity of supportive technologies to:
  • Convert, what has always been unintentional, contingent, situational, and authentic learning (albeit transient and vulnerable) into recordable, shareable, submit-able, and media rich ‘evidence’;
  • Enable access to formal and informal sources in support of learning from anywhere in the world, at any time.

We are living in very exciting times, promising almost magical opportunities to ‘teacher’ and ‘learner’ alike, never before experienced. But let us keep our composure. Remember ‘Gartner’s Hype Cycle’, let us learn from the mistakes of the past.

The future’s bright. The future’s... m-learning (but it needs to be ADC).

What about evaluation?

Teachers/trainers can use on-line resources to seek feedback from students about subject delivery and coverage. This helps do identify where the teacher/trainer needs to focus more effort to ensure understanding. Such systems will identify what works well and why.

Students/learners can use their MCDs like ‘clickers’ to provide feedback in-class or from remote locations. Notifications can be sent by ‘teachers’ regarding evaluation activities. The student is able to respond immediately, which improves participation, and can expedite remedies.

Of course, the technology means that not only can students/teachers evaluate learning/teaching, students can evaluate each other.

Points to consider

  • Not everyone has access to MCDs, but they can be provided.
  • Need to be aware of phone number identification where anonymous participation is required.
  • M-learning integrates well with blended and flexible learning.
  • Real vs mediated communication?
  • Use of ‘mobile’ language is not always acceptable.
  • Variable web access and platforms (Apps vs Open Source).
  • Is it just a fad (Gartner’s Hype Cycle).
  • Mobile security. 
Supportive software. Don’t forget QR codes in the workplace can support learning access and retention.

Cost vs Return on investment (ROI)

People are already asking, "What is the likely ROI of m-learning?"

I would suggest this is a question that cannot be answered quantitatively at present. Firstly there is essentially no current data upon which a valid assessment can be based. Secondly, making such an evaluation will be difficult to perform as many of the benefits are qualitative, and thereby difficult to quantify in an accurate and meaningful way.

The current lack of equitability between formal and informal learning may well become a thing of the past. That itself would represent a huge, although unquantifiable, ROI.

The Real Challenge

M-learning could be a victim of its inherent and desirable qualities, i.e. flexibility, accessibility, immediacy, and commutability.

For example, consider the many-to-many relationships that exist for a typical college student. A student has many relationships with many lecturers and with very many students. The permutations already require a computer to calculate the numbers. Now add to the formula the ways in which m-learning may be communicated. By text message, e-mail, mobile up-load, file sharing platform, social networking sites, blogs, intranets, web sites, social media sites to name but a few. Now consider the possibilities for multiple instantaneous 'sharings', e.g., a notice posted on LinkedIn is also sent to Twitter and Face book.

Now imagine you are a lecturer with only 10 different classes a week, and each class has only 20 students.

If you are, or have been, a teacher/lecture and you are thinking about the end-of-term assessments and reports you must write, and you are thinking about using m-learning, having read the above, I know you are in a terrifying place right now.

It cannot be left to the student/learner to 'get on with their learning' in an m-learning enabled environment. There will be chaos, and a vast amount of evidence of learning that will never see 'the light of day'.


We must ensure we give due consideration to the environment in which 'teachers' and 'learners' operate and recognise that structure must be imposed. The key to success will be how to balance the maximum flexibility with the need to manage learning for oneself or for others.


Testing e-Learning Templates is not Simply Adding Text and Media

01 Target Audience

(01.1) Anyone involved in e-Learning template commissioning, Instructional Design, and related roles.

02 Executive Summary

(02.1) Testing e-learning templates, like any software, is not simply a matter of adding text and media. Few clients understand this, so your first task is to explain what is involved.

(02.2) For the purposes of testing, each template requires the creation of a number of matrices. Once created, each matrix must be systematically completed, following the testing of each identified element.

(02.3) The process is repeated for each template, finally giving a series of results, for each identified element, within each template.

03 Structure of this Article

04 Terminology
05 Introduction
06 Understanding What the Client may not Understand
07 Template Testing
08 And Finally

04 Terminology

(04.1) Preview Mode
Refers to the functionality within e-learning development software that provides a display of the content, as it will be seen in the finished resource.

(04.2) S A
Abbreviation for Submit (button) Active.

05 Introduction

(05.1) As any software tester will tell you, testing e-learning templates, like any software, is not just a matter (in this case) of adding text and media.

(05.3) The simple fact is, few e-learning practitioners, and very few, if any, clients truly understand what is being asked when a client says…

(05.4) “I will send you some content, and I want you to use it to test our new e-learning templates, and report on the results. Eight hours will be more than enough, won’t it? Our non-instructional designers have picked-it-up really quickly, its very straight-forward to use.”

(05.5) The alarm bells are ringing already! So, how do you deal with this?

06 Understanding What the Client may not Understand

(06.1) The client may not understand:
  1. Template testing is not simply a matter of adding text and media;
  2. The value you bring as a professional. What understanding have “non-instructional designers” regarding the practices and methods of instructional design, and related activities?;
  3. Templates being straightforward to use, has relatively little bearing on what is involved in testing such templates.
(06.2) The first thing you must do, before entering into such an activity, is ensure the client has some appreciation of:
  1. What is involved in template testing;
  2. Your value as a professional.
Having covered the above two points, the issue raised by 06.1.3, above, should be clarified.

07 Template Testing

(07.1) The process involved with template testing is not complex, but requires structure, and an ability to execute repetitive tasks. An overview is given below, together with an example.

07.1 Step 1

(07.1.1) Each template will require the creation of a number of matrices. The number will be determined by the complexity of the template.

07.2 Step 2

(07.2.1) Each matrix is completed by recording:
1.    The antecedents (what you did/happened immediately before the test was applied);
2.    A description of the test;
3.    The consequences (what happened immediately after the test was applied).

(07.2.2) For those of you with a background in ‘traditional education’, you may recognise the above as the ABC Model for Behaviour Analysis (aka Behaviour Management). That is, Antecedents – Behaviour – Consequences.

(07.2.3) The analogy is logical in that, when testing templates, you are analyzing template behaviour under various circumstances, and seeking to understand what influences that behaviour, and what results.

(07.2.4) However, unlike seeking to understand the behaviour of people, the purpose of testing templates is ultimately to ‘break’ them. The logic being, if you have systematically tried to ‘break’ the templates and failed, the templates are robust and fit for purpose. Of course, this argument is only sound, if the testing is rigorous, and assumes nothing.

07.3 Step 3

(07.3.1) Results of the template test are summarized by reporting those elements failing to give the expected outcome(s). All matrices should be included as appendices to substantiate your report.

07.4 Example

(07.4.1) Imagine you are testing an e-Learning template of a multiple-choice question (MCQ), giving four distractors (incorrect answers), one correct answer, and no media (e.g. images, audio, video).

(07.4.2) A simplified matrix for testing the MCQ could comprise the following.

Matrix Title: MCQ – One correct answer – 4 distractors - No media

Element                    Antecedent        Test                             Consequences
Empty template        None                  None                          None
1st text element        None                  Add text and save      Saved 1
1st text element        Saved 1              Preview mode (PM)  Display 1
2nd text element       Saved 1              Add text and save     Saved 1-2
2nd text element       Saved 1-2           PM                            Display 1-2
3rd text element        Saved  1-2          Add text and save     Saved 1-3
3rd text element        Saved 1-3           PM                            Display 1-3
4th text element        Saved 1-3           Add text and save     Saved 1-4
4th text element        Saved 1-4           PM                            Display 1-4
5th text element        Saved 1-4           Add text and save     Saved 1-5
5th text element        Saved 1-5           PM                            Display 1-5
No answer selected   Display 1-5        Submit MCQ PM      ‘Submit’ inactive
2 answers selected    Display 1-5        1 ‘checked’                Last ‘checked’ S A
3 answers selected    Display 1-5        1 ‘checked’                Last ‘checked’ S A
4 answers selected    Display 1-5        1 ‘checked’                Last ‘checked’ S A
5 answers selected    Display 1-5        1 ‘checked’                Last ‘checked’ S A

(07.4.3) The matrix would continue with the individual selection of each incorrect answer, and the correct answer, together with the testing of navigation to the next and previous ‘screens’.

(07.4.4) The reasoning in support of such a meticulous approach is that, if, for example, all the text elements were completed, and then saved, it is possible to miss any ‘bugs’ that may exist when using each text element individually. It can be agued, each text element will use the same programmatic routine, however, this makes the assumption, ‘nothing can possibly go wrong’, which is not necessarily valid.

(07.4.5) This matrix does not include the testing of, for example, supportive elements within the ‘screen’, such as the Help function, Menu, Resources, and so on. Depending on the complexity of the Graphical User Interface, such testing may best be recorded in a dedicated matrix.

08 And Finally

(08.1) It is not difficult to imagine the time and discipline required to complete a test of a suite of e-Learning templates, and report on the findings, even if everything functions as expected.

(08.2) The time required to complete the testing will increase significantly, as the number of ‘bugs’ detected increase.

(08.3) The primary testing of e-Learning templates is, in my experience, rarely undertaken by individuals not involved in the programming of those templates, and for good reason. However, if you find yourself in this position, ensure your client understands what is involved. Alternatively, suggest the template developers conduct such testing.

08.1 Use of this article
(08.1.1) Any part, or all, of this article may be copied or ‘hyperlinked to’ for non-commercial purposes. Any copied content or hyperlink to include the following, please…

Testing e-Learning Templates is not just Adding Text and Media
by Tim Cliffe Copyright 2015-03

(08.1.2) Where use will be for commercial purposes, seek authorisation, including details of proposed use, via the contact form at http://www.TimCliffe.uk/contact/