Empathy in Instructional Design

I threw out the question, “What are the critical elements of a strategy for helping SMEs without ID backgrounds design better instruction?” to a group of instructional designers.

Lots of great discussion, but I was particularly struck by one insight offered: the importance of empathy. Not empathy in the sense of sympathizing with the time-constrained SME, but rather in the sense of helping SMEs empathize with their learners.

It’s exceptionally difficult, perhaps sometimes impossible, for a subject matter expert to understand what’s going on inside the heads of novices, so this notion of empathy is important, but not easy to deal with. SMEs will reliably provide fewer examples and interactions and more detail at a faster pace than novices need because, to the SME, the content is easy.

Good conversation ensued around pairing SMEs with less experienced personnel to do development, and around iterative design cycles, but I don’t know that there are easy solutions.


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