How to Convince Reluctant Instructors & SMEs to Give E-Learning a Chance

You’ve always cherished your classroom instructors, the subject matter experts (SMEs) who teach your association’s in-person courses, workshops, and other educational programs. These “old-school” instructors love the immediacy of the meeting room’s face-to-face interaction—that’s what keeps their passion for their teaching side hustle alive. 

Now you’re asking these instructors to help your team develop and deliver new e-learning programs—but they’re not at all interested. In fact, they’re not even cooperating because they don’t think e-learning is as effective as classroom learning. How can you convince reluctant instructors to give e-learning a chance? 

How to overcome a reluctant SME’s resistance to change

You know what the real problem is, right? This SME is not willing to change. It’s an emotional decision, not a logical one. To turn the situation around, you first have to figure out why they’re resisting change, and then come up with a strategy to help them overcome that inner resistance. 

Unfamiliarity with or poor impression of e-learning

Your reluctant SME believes classroom training is far superior to e-learning, but this opinion isn’t based on any research or relevant experience. Maybe they’ve never participated in an e-learning program. Or, if they did, it was back in 2000, and, naturally, they were not impressed. They think that’s still how e-learning works.

Show them examples of good e-learning programs. Don’t assume they’re familiar with the principles (and science) of adult learning. Explain why online courses are designed the way they are and how the unique characteristics of e-learning benefit the learner. If you think it will help, ask a third-party expert, for example, an instructional designer, to talk with the SME.

Provide resources that will help the SME understand e-learning as well as your learning management system’s functionalities, for example, an e-learning 101 guide. Share internal data and external research that illustrate successful learner outcomes, including feedback, evaluations, and testimonials. Try to shift the SME’s focus back to where it belongs, on the learner, not them.

reluctant instructors

Loss of student interaction

A classroom instructor can’t imagine teaching to a screen instead of faces—and that’s a valid concern. Acknowledge how e-learning differs from classroom learning but highlight the unique selling points of online learning. Remind the SME about what students appreciate in the e-learning experience: convenience, cost, mobile accessibility, and the ease with which they can fit it in their busy schedule. 

Share some examples of how an instructor can interact and engage with learners in synchronous and even asynchronous courses:

•    Facilitate discussion forums.
•    Host live webcasts that feature group discussions.
•    Hold virtual open-door office hours.
•    Schedule individual check-ins with students.

Discomfort with their changing role as instructor

It’s time to play amateur psychologist. The SME’s ego is attached to their role as an instructor. Now you’re taking that away from them and assigning them a new role. Who wouldn’t be a bit put out?

Will this new role be as rewarding? Right now, they can’t imagine how it would be—that’s depressing. Take away the element of the unknown. Explain how online course development and delivery works and their role in that process. Set them up with an experienced online instructor who can put their anxieties to rest. 

They’re also wondering how much time they’ll have to spend preparing for this new program. How many more hours will they have to work during the program? Will they be compensated for that additional time? You can’t take paid or volunteer instructors for granted. Make it worth their while. 

Technology anxiety

Will they be good at it? The SME may not feel confident about using new technology and teaching in a new way. This is all new territory for them. 

Help them take baby steps with the technology. Invite (or require) them to use the LMS for aspects of their in-person programs, for example, maintaining grades, conducting assessments, communicating with students, and using the discussion forums. 

Add a blended learning element to their in-person program, perhaps pre- or post-program online self-assessments and exercises. Invite students to use the discussion forum before meeting in person, and continue discussions and follow-up after the program ends.

Alleviate their anxiety about online instruction. Develop an online “train the e-trainer” program or find a good program you can either license or send them to. 

Pair them with an experienced e-learning instructor, perhaps an enthusiastic and successful early adopter who can mentor them. Invite all online instructors to participate in an online peer networking group.

reluctant instructors

Control issues

Your SMEs have invested their time, energy and reputation in the face-to-face program. They have a sense of ownership in “their” program. Don’t be surprised if they get territorial about instructional materials, especially if you whittle down information and leave some of their good stuff on the editing room floor.

In their minds, they’re the ones with years of experience teaching this material, the real expert with a better grasp of the topic and the students. They believe they know best how to deliver the information and tune into learner needs

And now, you’re taking that control from them. 

You’re going to have to reset their expectations about their role and responsibilities in the design and delivery of the online program. They need to hear the scientific and programmatic reasons behind decisions, preferably from an expert. For example, yes, you do have to divide the content up into small chunks, and here’s why. Invite their feedback but be ready to stand your ground.

Lack of ownership in the new online program

If they weren’t involved with the decision to convert “their” course to an e-learning program, they may feel disrespected and out of the loop. That’s a blow to their pride. No wonder they don’t seem committed to the success of the new program

But, you can involve them now. Get them up to speed. Invite them to meetings. Ask for their feedback. Thank them for their efforts.

Show them you need and respect their insight. Listen. Really listen to them. Ask specific questions about different components of their program: their experience with students, exercises, challenges, and approach to topics. Elicit their concerns and let them vent. You need to get their concerns on the table so you can correct misinformation and ease their mind (ego).

Guarding their time

Adjusting to change takes time. The SME needs additional time to work with the instructional designer, become familiar with the LMS, and rework their lesson plan. Most likely they’re doing all this in addition to their full-time job. 

If they’re not going to be involved with the new program, all this effort amounts to spending their precious time training their replacement.

So, what’s in it for them? 

Put yourself in their shoes so you can show enormous respect for their time. Let them know how critical their involvement is for the association’s success and, more importantly, the learner’s success. 

Always bring the focus back to the learners. Remind the SME that your mission-driven association is obligated to serve your members and industry in the best way you can. Online learning is an essential element in a professional development program—and your SME is an essential player in e-learning program design and delivery.

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