Tips to Work Effectively with Subject Matter Experts

subject matter expert

One of the challenges that many people seem to face when developing eLearning is around working more effectively with their subject matter experts or SMEs. This blog is based on feedback we often hear in our Certified Articulate Training workshops and offers advice to navigate through some of these challenges.

An SME is the content expert. They have a deep understanding of a particular topic, area or field. They are your ‘go to’ person when you require any information about what content is required to meet the learning objectives for the eLearning module. In some cases, you may be dealing with multiple SMEs but the below advice will apply to situations with one SME or multiple.

It’s the Learning Designers job to adapt the content so the learning experience is effective – in other words, the learners acquire the skills they need and then transfer or apply it to their environment. They make sure all the essential ‘need to know’ information ends up on the screen and the ‘nice to know’, non-essential information is stored somewhere else e.g., in extra readings lists, etc.

Make a good start

Make it clear from the beginning who is responsible for what. It’s important to have clearly defined roles. While all roles are equally important, they are different – the SME will provide the material, and you as the Learning Designer will adapt it into effective and meaningful eLearning experiences.

When starting a project, take the time to discuss with the SME how you relate to the project and define the learning objectives. Do not take anything for granted; stating these things from the beginning will help build familiarity and a clearer picture of the team as a whole. If the content needs to be compiled from different sources then we suggest you add a storyboard step into your process. This way the SME can sign off on the content before you start building it, avoiding unnecessary rework and additions. It is also useful to establish who will approve which parts of content early in the process. Will there be multiple sign offs required or just one final sign off?

Good project management

It’s important to establish clear expectations and milestones at the begging of the project so everyone is on the same page. Identify when and where you will need the SME, what you require from them and schedule meeting times. Let them know that you are also mindful of their workload and agree on the minimum times to meet and reasonable deadlines.

Be prepared

Chances are the SMEs top priority is not your eLearning module so your meetings might not always rate highly on their priority list. Being prepared by researching their job role/subject area helps to get the most out of sessions and usually results in less back and forth communication. Having a list of questions for each meeting also helps you direct the conversation and sift through the nice to know͛ information to the need-to-know information.

Understand things from their perspective and vice versa

Having an understanding and appreciation for the SME’s content, job role and how their content has been used in the past is a big step towards having a positive, productive working relationship. It’s also important that the SME sees things from your perspective and understands your job and what you’re trying to achieve. This can be done by showing them examples of online modules that you’ve created in the past or examples that you’re using as inspiration. It can also be helpful to have some information on how effective eLearning content is in reaching desired outcomes – this could be in the form of positive anecdotes or statistics.

Keep it simple

The key component to creating a good working relationship is to make it as straightforward and simple as possible. It’s important to always look for any ways to make the job on their end easier e.g., by providing templates for scenarios, using simple review tools or working around their schedules.

We hope these tips can help create a positive working relationship with your SME/s, setting you up to develop the most effective eLearning content.

Want to learn more about how to design, develop and deliver eLearning? Visit our events page to see upcoming workshops and webinars.

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