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. This post shares what we often hear in our Certified Articulate Training workshops and offers advice to navigate through some of these challenges.

A Subject Matter Expert, also known as a SME, is the content expert. They are an individual with a deep understanding of a particular process, function, technology, machine, material or type of equipment. 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.

It’s the Instructional Designers job to massage the content so the learners participate in learning experiences that acquire skills they can transfer to their environment. They make sure all the ‘need to know’ information ends up on the screen and the ‘nice to know’ can be stored somewhere else e.g. extra readings lists etc.

Make a good start

Make it clear from the beginning that while you appreciate your SMEs contribution, your roles are equally important; they provide the material, and you craft it in order to create effective and meaningful eLearning experiences together. When starting off a project, take the time to discuss with the subject matter expert how you both relate to the project and what are your learning objectives. Do not take anything for granted; stating these things from the beginning will help build familiarity and a more clear picture of the team as a whole. If the content needs to be compiled from different sources then you we suggest you add a storyboard step into your process. This way the SME can sign off on the content before you start building the content and avoid unnecessary rework and additions.

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 and schedule meeting times the some meeting times. Let them know that you are also mindful of their workload and agree on the minimum times to meet.

Be Prepared

Chances are the SMEs top priority is not your eLearning module so your meetings will not always rate so highly on their priority list. I also find that if I’m prepared and have done my research on their job role/subject area that we get the most out of our sessions and usually this results in less back and forth communication. Having a good, direct list of questions for each meeting, also helps you sift through the nice to know͛ information to find the need to know information. There’s lots of sample question lists online.

Understand things from their perspective and vice versa

I’ve found that having an understanding and appreciation for their content, job role and how it’s been used in the past is a big step towards having a positive, productive working relationship. I also think it’s important that the SME sees things from my perspective and understands what my job role is. I do this through showing them examples of online modules that we’ve created in the past.

Keep it Simple

I think the key component to creating a good working relationship is to make it as straightforward and simple as possible. I always look for any ways that I can make the job on their end easier e.g. providing templates for scenarios, using simple review tools or working around their schedules as much as I can.

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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