Context is King

It’s a phrase I use in almost every presentation I have given on online learning (so apologies if contectyou were in the audience!) but for me, context is the biggest gift learning professionals can give any programme.  In the drive to get more and more content online, we often forget that there are some simple things we can do that create highly effective programmes without high production costs.  This month, we’ll be exploring how to make the most of subject matter experts and I wanted to start by sharing some examples that I believe work very well indeed, starting with video. In a time poor, fast moving environment, sharing subject matter expertise rapidly in a medium that is quick to create and easy to swap out is vital.  This was the driver for many major knowledge management initiatives in large organisations back in the early 2000s when significant investment was made in intranets and microsites to store lessons learnt and project reviews.  Although it was a significant step in helping extend the reach of subject matter experts, it wasn’t especially engaging and trying to disseminate tacit knowledge into written content loses some of its impact and immediacy.  However video at that time was regarded as expensive and bandwidth draining, still limited predominantly to corporate videos with a crew and flattering lighting!  However in recent years, video has been more widely embraced, from performance support space where quick videos provide on demand instruction through to online lectures. But overall, to my mind, it’s still not reaching its potential.  When short, focussed videos are included as part of an overall learning scaffold, you instantly elevate the content and contextualise what may have been regarded as too theoretical.  Try turning the development of online material on it’s head: where should you invest?  In the development of bespoke e-learning content modules or could you reuse existing materials and blend with interviews and lessons learnt from subject matter experts?  I’ve seen incredible online academies developed with the judicious blend of newly commissioned content, reuse and repositioning of existing materials, instantly updated and refreshed with some great SME interviews. Essentially it’s about developing an overall scaffold for the subject and understanding where subject matter insight will have maximum impact.  Think about following a scene setting piece of e-learning that lays out core concepts with a view from the frontline video – this is a simple way to accelerate the transfer of knowledge into action and by breaking it down in this was rather than embed it into formal content, these videos can be quickly swapped in and out as required.  There’s a nice concise article from JISC on effective use of video that acts a simple litmus test for the video you may already use or plan to use.  However, from my experience, there are some simple lessons to make video more effective:

  • Plan – speak with the SME beforehand and explore what you’ll cover.
  • Authentic – However, although others will disagree, some of the most effective video I have seen is then not tightly scripted.  Knowing what you’ll cover and the key points you want to make facilitates the smooth running of the video take, but our most popular videos are those delivered authentically and conversationally.  There is a time and place to professional shot and scripted video, but to share tacit experience, a simply shot video delivered by someone who may occasionally hesitate or pause for thought is no bad thing.
  • Short – keep it brief!  As we’ve discussed previously, a recorded lecture does not equal an effective online course.  That’s not to say you can’t use a recorded workshop, but how can you break it down and blend with effective calls to learning action?

Next week, I’ll look at the role of SMEs as facilitators.