"Nice to Know" vs "Need to Know"

We have all had project “kick-off” meetings with Subject Matter Experts where they do an information “dump”. They share with us anything and everything they have ever learned about the topic. We are then left reviewing all the content/information that has been given to us and try to determine what is “Nice to Know” and what is “Need to Know”. Of course to the SME, all of the content is “Need to Know”, so it is our job to ask the right questions to sort through all the information.

In Diane Elkin’s blog post Negotiating Out “Nice-to-Know” Information, she touches on some key concepts/questions we should all practice when working with SMEs.

1.  Just because the “SME says so”, is not a good reason for including unnecessary content in a course. You are the Instructional Designer and your job is to work with your SME to help them understand that only content that leads to improved performance is “Need to Know” information.

2.  Be careful with the questions you ask your SMEs. Questions like, “Do they need to know this?” or “Do we need to include this?”, will most often result in a YES answer. Thus making it harder for you to convince your SME that the information may not necessarily need to be included in the course.

3.  Ask better questions like:

“Can you give me an example of when this would come up on the job?”

“Would there ever be a situation where they’ll need to rely on this information?”

“What would happen if someone DIDN’T learn this information?”

These types of performance-based questions are going to help guide your SME in considering how the learners are going to apply the information they learn in the course to their everyday jobs. If they cannot apply the information, then is it really “Need to Know” information that should be included in the course?