In a previous article, I noted that experts have different internal knowledge structures than novices. Expert knowledge seems to be efficiently organized and easy to search through, like an orderly file cabinet. Expert knowledge is deeply interconnected, creating many paths for recalling information.
When you’re designing for experts in a field, try to match the design and writing with their unique characteristics, which occur both in how they structure knowledge as well as the circumstances of their professional life. Here are some tips you can use when designing courses for experts.
Quickly Mention Prerequisite Content
Experts know a lot, but they can’t be expected to remember everything. So a slight nod to a prerequisite topic will ensure they recall the information. Quickly touch on prerequisites in a way they barely notice. Or have prerequisite content available as an extra resource.
Keep it Organized
Experts have a well-organized framework within which they fit their knowledge. This helps them retrieve information quickly. Your design and writing should also be well-organized and, if possible, structured according to the way an expert would think. Most fields have a more or less typical way of systematizing information and you should probably stick to this approach, unless you have a great reason not to do so. If your content is logically and conventionally organized, it will help experts quickly fit new information into their existing structures.
Get Them In and Out
If you’re writing for experts, assume they are busy. Everyone wants an expert, needs an expert and has questions for the expert. They are usually in great demand and may only be taking your online course because it is an employee requirement. Get them in and out of the training as quickly as possible. When writing for experts, don’t belabor your points.
Don’t Play Simple Games
In my experience, most experts do not feel like playing simplistic games and getting involved in cute interactive activities. Unless you’re creating a very involved simulation or a complex exercise, don’t make experts go through a lot of interactive activities to learn. If you want interaction, then let them solve problems. A problem based on a challenging real-world scenario or competitive activity might work. Consider making it optional.
Assume They’ll Get It
Experts don’t mind stretching a bit and don’t need hand holding. Well-connected networks of knowledge facilitate adding new information. You can go for complexity and assume they’ll understand it. If they don’t, they’ll use their own resourcefulness to figure it out. You can help this along by providing supplemental and curated information in the form of links to authority websites, downloads of background resources, such as research studies.
Experts are comfortable being the best. Avoid writing in a way that could be interpreted as condescending. Condescension is a de-motivator for everyone. Can you imagine how it makes the expert feel?
Connie Malamed says
You have a lot of great points there, Anne-Laure. Skipping around should be essential and it’s often hard to do because of the organizational need to control things. Thanks for your input.
Anne-Laure Thomas says
(warning : English as a second language)
I would add the possibility to skip whatever they want, meaning the path for them has to be really autonomous. Let them decide what they should start with. But keep it organized though, meaning they can go back and forth effortlessly thanks to a learning markers. This is very hard to target though because mot of companies don’t know how to handle the autonomy, feeling they are loosing control. Resulting in expert designed content into a novice mind structure (hand holding)…
Besides, this is not a tip but a view that stood out when I read your post: if we design for experts, let’s keep in mind novices : let’s design in a way experts can pass on their knowledge while they learn. It may be not in the activities but in the stories we design.
Interesting article as always, thanks for sharing !
Connie Malamed says
Yes, I think this we all need more awareness of how learning from an expert perspective is very different than learning from a novice view. The fact that you are going to adapt your learning for this group is just great. Would love to hear more about the strategies you come up with. Thanks for your input today.
Barbara Menezes says
Most of what we design in our organization is for doctors, nurses, and sometimes medical students. These principles helped me see more clearly what we suspected, why we have so much trouble getting the experienced doctors involved and keeping them with us. They are the experts in our group and we need to do serious adaptations for them, just like we had to do for the novices!
Thank you for posting this.
Connie Malamed says
Thanks for your insights about working with experts who are instructors. Many designers also develop for stand-up training, so this is good information to have here.
Sheridan Webb says
Interesting that this is written from an e-learning perspective. The points are just as valid when designing a face to face workshop for experts to deliver. Often experts have all the knowledge, but do not know how to share that with others in an interactive way.
When I work with experts, I sit down with them to discuss what they need to cover, and then give them suggestions about how they can bring the material to life. The only need key points to jog their memory about the technical stuff, but will need lots of detail about the interactive stuff.
Using a training designer to help internal experts become trainers and coaches is a great way to develop expertise across the business, for minimal investment.