Working with SMEs

Many instructional designers find working with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) challenging. However, without their assistance and input, creating a highly successful course is nearly impossible. Therefore, eLearning professionals must build strong and productive relationships with their SMEs. In this article, we will look at seven ways to work effectively with Subject Matter Experts.

1. Break the Ice 

two people meeting and shaking handsMany Subject Mater Experts are busy with their jobs, think that they know it all, and feel territorial about their work. Breaking the ice during the initial meeting is a crucial step toward successful relationship with the SME. Some of the best ways to win the SME over include listening actively by asking specific questions about their material, and showing genuine interest in their work. Even the most “pompous” SMEs will become less resistant when they know they are being heard.

2. Gather Content

different types of contentNot all Subject Matter Experts know exactly what needs to go into the training course. This is where instructional designers come into play. The first step in ensuring training success is creating learning objectives. They will help eLearning professionals figure out what information needs to be included in the course. If SMEs go off on a tangent, instructional designers should help them to get back on track by classifying the information into the tree categories: must know, should know, and nice to know. On the other hand, if the SME provides too little information, asking relevant questions, soliciting for examples and case studies should ensure that the course is complete and the information is clearly presented.

3. Do Preliminary Research 

researchWhile instructional designers are not expected to know everything about the topic of the course they are creating, they should still be prepared for discussions with the SME. Conducting preliminary research prior to the meeting with the SME, and becoming familiar with terminology and jargon are just some of the ways to prepare for the initial content-gathering meeting.

4. Facilitate the Process 

process flowchartSince Subject Matter Experts are not part of the eLearning team, they may not be familiar with the process or expectations. To ensure that SMEs are on the same page with everyone on team, it might be helpful to establish expectations, and create schedule with deadlines during the first meeting. Instructional designers may also consider creating a document that requires SME’s approval of the eLearning content. Additionally, many SMEs would appreciate the ability to track progress and review milestones.

5. Show Examples 

samples of picturesInstead of explaining how the course will be designed and what elements will be included, instructional designers should simply show examples of good eLearning courses on a similar topic. These examples, should help SMEs visualize their course; thus, making them more excited about the final product. If using a course authoring solution like CourseArc, grant the SME commenting or editing access so they can visualize the content, leave feedback, and make updates, if necessary. However, just showing examples of relevant courses may not be enough. Instructional designers should be able to explain why they recommend one design approach over another, and outline all the benefits related to the proposed option.

6. Be Flexible 

flexibleRemember that Subject Matter Experts may not have a lot of time for endless, recurring meetings; therefore, flexibility is key to building successful relationships with SMEs. Instructional designers should work around SMEs’ schedules, and plan in-person meetings only when they are truly necessary. For minor questions and clarifications on the content, a quick email or a phone call should suffice.

7. Provide Feedback 

feedbackeLearning professionals should always show appreciation of SMEs’ time and assistance. This can be done by sending out an email to the SMEs’ supervisor, recognizing the value of their input.

Even though SMEs possess the knowledge that instructional designers don’t have, it is instructional designers’ responsibility to convert that knowledge into an instructionally sound course with measurable and observable objectives, relevant examples, coherent presentations, interactive exercises, and assessments. The principles listed above should help eLearning professionals build productive relationships with the SMEs, which will result in a successful eLearning course.



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