Working with Subject Matter Experts

For many instructional designers, working with subject matter experts, known as SMEs, is an integral part of the process. The SME, an expert in a certain field or area, supplies the content that the instructional designer, in turn, uses to create the training. The method for obtaining the content from the SME varies. Some design practices involve interviewing the SME, while in other cases the SME writes the course's narrative. Working with SMEs can be somewhat challenging for instructional designers, as their goals may differ. SMEs are usually not as familiar with instructional design principles as instructional designers are, and this can cause conflicts.

A general process for working with SMEs might look something like the following:

  1. Initial meeting with SME to go over the training's objectives and goals, as well as familiarize the SME with learner characteristics.
  2. Interview the SME on what is important for the learner to be able to do when the training is complete.
  3. The SME will review content. In some cases, the SME creates the content, while in other cases the instructional designer creates the content, which is then reviewed by the SME.
  4. Work with the SME to gather best practices, tips and tricks, and case studies that can enhance the training.

Sometimes, working with subject matter experts can be difficult for instructional designers. While SMEs are usually experts in their field, they may have no background in instructional design. The instructional designer must work to find common ground and to take the SME's valuable content and transform it into something that is instructionally sound.

The following tips can help make it easier to work with SMEs:

  1. Communication is key. Keeping an open line of communication can help make the instructional designer and SME feel like more of a team, working together.
  2. Flexibility is a must. The SME often has a "day job," so it's important for the instructional designer to be mindful of the SME's schedule.
  3. Familiarize the SME on effective learning that you or your organization have created, to help him or her get a perspective on how the information will be delivered.
Author: Margaux Judge

Margaux Judge has worked as an e-learning editor and instructional designer for over ten years, writing and editing a wide variety of courses, from technical topics to soft skills. She has a Bachelor's degree in English and Textual Studies from Syracuse University and a Master's degree in Television Writing from Boston University.

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