Monthly Archives: September 2011

4MAT Train the Trainer: 10 Questions to Ask a Subject Matter Expert

“What separates novices from experts?” John Bransford, an education researcher, identified six characteristics which distinguish the understanding of a novice from that of an expert. One of the characteristics is relevant to the conversation around how to help novices gain mastery in a particular area of competency.  “[Experts’] knowledge is not simply a list of facts and formulas that are relevant to their domain; instead their knowledge is organized around core concepts or “big ideas” that guide their thinking about their domains.” If you have experienced a 4MAT train the trainer or instructional design course, you are familiar with this idea of defining the “concept” for your course.

In the 4MAT Leading Training Needs Analysis to Define Results-Focused Learning Outcomes Online Course, we delve into how to elicit these concepts from high performers (subject matter experts).

When working with subject-matter experts, the trainer should be focused on determining these concepts, the “big ideas.”  This might sound easy.  However, it is easy to be overwhelmed or distracted by all the possible content topics and miss the bigger idea.

What if we simply asked the experts to identify the concepts? This sounds like a simple solution, but one of the outcomes of growing expertise (unconscious competence), is the tendency to forget what it is like to be a novice (unconsciously incompetence).

Asking questions that zone in on the different ways that subject matter experts approach the learning content will help you define the right learning outcomes and elicit the content that should be included in your training design.

Here are 10 questions you might use in a subject matter expert interview to help you elicit what master performers “get” that novices need to acquire:

  • Was there ever a moment when you had an “aha!” around this and suddenly it all made sense? If so, will you share this with me?
  • If there were “one thing” that most people don’t get about this area of content, what would that one thing be?
  • What does someone need to understand to do this well?
  • Of all the information you shared, what is most important?
  • If someone were to get “all caught up in the details” around this content, what “big picture” might they miss?
  • When you picture how all this information fits together, what image comes to mind?
  • If you were assigned to give someone feedback on applying this, what would you look for?
  • If you were watching a high performer and a low performer applying this side-by-side, what differences would you see?
  • What kind of situations would require someone to get creative in applying this information?
  • Where might the “wheels come off of the track”?
  • What advice would you give someone to help them prepare for the barriers they might run into when applying this content?