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Selection Methodology

Rapid advancement characterizes the cannabis industry, and the need for technically qualified Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) continues to be in high demand. Technical SMEs play an essential role in helping achieve this goal, but their role differs from that of the Instructional Designer. While the technical SME provides what becomes the training content material, it is the instructional developer’s task to produce instructional components (ex. lectures, practice, tests) that facilitate and verify the acquisition of the target knowledge.

The Instructional Design (ID) process to publish curricula is time-consuming and challenging, therefore selecting an SME who is capable and suitable for the job is critical. The process of obtaining technical information from an SME is referred to as “knowledge extraction”, for each Instructional Design project, the instructional developer must conduct the knowledge extraction process with at least one SME.

Considering the increasing volume of compliance and medical knowledge needed in the cannabis industry, the time involved with its development, and the critical role of SMEs in this endeavor, it is important to select SMEs who are technically qualified. The identification of an SME’s personal and professional qualities will provide the instructional developer with the most efficient and effective support for the knowledge extraction process and subsequent revision and finalizing of the technical material.

Cannabis Industry Expertise

The cannabis industry strives to implement the most advanced technologies and best practices to be competitive, those currently employed industry professionals are often a good source of up-to-date technical knowledge. Cannabis industry professionals, whose jobs focus on specific tasks and processes, tend to develop in-depth and detailed knowledge in a particular domain or “domain-specific knowledge.” The value of someone with domain-specific knowledge for providing expertise in solving problems and performing complex tasks.

However, SMEs whose performance and job duties lie within a narrow scope can lack the breadth of knowledge which may be needed to provide learners enrolled in college technology programs with both specific knowledge and a general understanding of a technology field. Breadth and scope are necessary for curricula that are designed to impart both specific knowledge and a broad understanding of the field.

Industry SMEs who hold management positions often have a wider breadth of knowledge than technicians and engineers, but acquiring their time to support curriculum development can be more difficult. When searching for an industry SME, instructional developers should first consult with the SME’s employer. Experts in the cannabis industry can identify technical personnel with specific knowledge sets, and they may be able to point out SMEs who are most qualified and available to help with Instructional Design (ID) development.

It may, however, be difficult to get permission to work with most experts because their time is highly valued by their organization in the cannabis industry. Seeking management approval and advice in locating potential SMEs demonstrates professional courtesy and promotes goodwill which can leverage assistance with future development projects. Developing a good relationship with professional cannabis organizations can pave the way for current and future sources of technical SMEs.

Training and Pedagogical Expertise

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) may possess different types of cannabis industry expertise, both of which can be uniquely valuable to supporting the curriculum development process. While industry SMEs’ knowledge tends to exhibit a highly focused perspective on the target domain and the specific skills necessary to perform a job, an instructor’s knowledge has a broader focus.

SMEs should promote a macro perspective for learners of technology with a balance of emphasis on depth and breadth of knowledge. This is necessary to enable learners to make career choices and to build their potential for a range of occupations in the field. SMEs also possess skills in articulating complex ideas and applying pedagogical methods that help learners learn.

Good teachers can explain difficult concepts using analogies and concrete examples, and they can spot particular areas within technical topics where learners may stumble and require additional guidance. SMEs can help an instructional developer shape the curriculum and learning activities so that domain-specific information is tied to the larger and broader body of knowledge and is linked to core cannabis industry licenses such as retail dispensaries, cultivation facilities, product manufacturing, and testing laboratories, etc.

Yet, SMEs who do not have recent cannabis industry experience may not be able to supply as up-to-date and in-depth information as working professional SMEs. This is especially true of an area such as cannabis industry laws and regulations which can change significantly in months’ time period. As in the cannabis industry, professional courtesy will help develop good relationships that can be leveraged to support future projects.

Subject Matter Expert Capability

Besides possessing depth and breadth of technical knowledge and being able to articulate and communicate effectively, the Subject Matter Expert (SME) should be readily available to support the Instructional Design (ID) development project, possess sufficient interpersonal skills to work effectively with others, have a positive attitude toward the project goals and development team.

Interpersonal Skills

If the Subject Matter Expert (SME) is unable to communicate effectively with the Instructional Design (ID) team members, it will be difficult or even impossible to generate an acceptable curriculum. To assess interpersonal skills, the prospective SME should be introduced to project team members and be closely observed for communication style, mannerisms, sense of humor, level of comfort, and professional courtesy

An SME with experience working in teams is more likely to have developed the interpersonal skills that promote effective teamwork and the ability to manage conflicts or disagreements with others. Such skills may be inferred from an SME’s history of past teamwork experiences, or a discussion with the SME’s supervisor or coworkers can also provide general information about their team performance and interpersonal skills.

Professional Attitude

A Subject Matter Expert’s (SME) attitude toward the educational product, the instructional developer, and the development team can have a strong effect on his or her performance. If an SME believes the end product will be of little value, he or she will expend less effort in developing a quality product. Conversely, an SME with a positive attitude toward the product is likely to have an elevated personal interest and a sense of pride in the project and pay meticulous attention to the accuracy and organization of the technical information. Attitude can be assessed, to some degree, by asking questions about the SME’s perceived value of the target training.

Since most attitudes are based on deep-rooted beliefs that develop over a lifetime of experience and are not easily changed, expecting a negative attitude to change during the Instructional Design (ID) process is not realistic. Asking open-ended questions such as “How do you think the quality of training determines how well technical people perform?” or “What kind of instruction do you think promotes the strongest technical knowledge?” can help assess the SME’s attitude toward the product. More information about the SME’s attitude can emerge during discussions with them about the project and its benefits to its intended users.

Expert Availability

The Subject Matter Expert (SME) must have sufficient time to devote to the Instructional Design (ID) development process. Even a small body of technical curriculum requires significant time to produce. The SME’s availability is especially important in the first stage of development since learning objectives and other critical instructional components are based directly on the SME’s technical content knowledge. Additionally, the SME is usually needed to help revise the curricula after it undergoes a tryout and evaluation period with learners and instructors.

Availability can be a challenge because Instructional Design (ID) development is rarely part of an SME’s normal job responsibilities. Short but intensive work sessions of two to three hours with substantial one-or-two-day breaks are often most convenient for an SME who holds a full-time job. Short sessions also reduce the mental and physical stress associated with knowledge extraction. In addition, the breaks provide time for the SME to reflect on the knowledge extraction sessions and may promote the recall of important information and trigger ideas on how to structure the training content.

The time can also be utilized by the instructional developer to prepare drafts for review by the SME in the next session. SMEs who cannot commit their availability to a schedule represents a risk to the success of the Instructional Design (ID) project. Time commitments should be specified before work on the ID begins, the state time and task commitments in specific terms reduce the potential for inaccurate expectations.

Selection Summary

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) play an essential role in technical training development by providing accurate and up-to-date information that matches education, training, and workforce needs. Choosing the most capable and suitable SMEs holds potential for a significant gain in efficiency and effectiveness of Instructional Design (ID), which in turn, can improve the quality of technical education and training.

"Learning never exhausts the mind."