Striking the Right Chord With Your Subject Matter Expert

If you’re designing eLearning experiences, the courses probably cover a full playlist of possible subjects — especially if you work on contract with a variety of clients. Even though you have great tools, such as Lectora® and ReviewLink®, you usually need to work with a subject matter expert (SME) to provide depth of content to your courses.

An SME assigned to a project might be the expert on the entire curriculum or on identified course topics. SMEs have the knowledge, skills, technical information, and raw material needed to form the basis of content. An SME’s real-world experience, practical examples, and personal anecdotes help make your content resonate with learners.

To strike the right chord with your SME, start by acknowledging that you need their help to create the course because you lack the content knowledge. Continue by asking the right questions to gather content, establish expectations, manage pitfalls, and develop partnership strategies.

Getting What You Need From an SME

Simply put, you need to understand what the SME knows about the subject at hand. Reality’s not quite that simple, though.

To effectively compose your eLearning projects, you’ll need:

  • Timely and relevant information on the subject
  • Digestible information with the right level of detail for your audience
  • Supporting materials or resources

With these goals in mind, you need good strategies to collect your content.

Content Is the King

Context can help your expert conceptualize how to best share information. Show the SME what an example end product looks like. Review the scope of the project and how the design process will flow. Ask your SME the following types of questions:

  • Who will be the target audience for the course?
  • What are the specific learning objectives for the course?
  • What skills should learners be able to perform as a result of the course?
  • What’s an ideal course length and why?
  • How will learners likely access the training?
  • What technical information and other documentation are available to review?
  • Are there existing process videos?
  • Where do I get more information on the topic?
  • Other than you, who should review the course and give feedback?

Sometimes, someone in management who requested the course development will know information about audiences and outcomes, while other times the SME will know the answers.

Getting in the Content Groove: Clarifying the Right Level and Amount

When you’ve covered expectations and content flows toward you, give feedback quickly. Compliment the SME where appropriate. Clearly explain how to adjust if necessary.

Here are some comments and questions to keep the SME’s content contributions in line with the objectives:

  • What is the “need-to-know” information for the learners?
  • Is the presented information need-to-know or nice-to-know? If need-to-know, then explain why.
  • Can we simplify the material for the new learner’s level of knowledge?
  • Are there graphs, charts, diagrams, other images, and graphics that will aid understanding?

When you get the need-to-know content broken down at the appropriate level for the audience, the project can run more smoothly and produce better results.

Developing a Harmonious Relationship by Managing Pitfalls

Designing instruction and eLearning development might seem like your job to an SME, but the SME has as much accountability to the project. Creating an environment of trust and mutual respect can set a professional tone that benefits both parties.

Understanding and communicating are keys to developing a more harmonious relationship, as described in the following problems and approaches.

  • The problem: Lack of SME’s availability to work on the project or to meet with you
    The approach: Communicate the amount of time needed for each meeting. Work with the SME to meet their schedule needs and yours.
  • The problem: SME’s inability to effectively communicate information
    The approach: Ask for the best methods of communication. You may have to meet face-to-face sometimes, but if your SME responds better to messaging, emailing, providing demonstrations, or by having help from a third party, accommodate them when you can. Always listen actively and deeply when having a discussion.
  • The problem: SME’s desire to control the project
    The approach: Build trust by asking the SME why they think designs should be done in a certain way, why interactions should be eliminated, and so on. Engage and explain sound instructional design principles that optimize eLearning for further context and provide examples where possible.
  • The problem: SME is resistant to participating
    The approach: When you ask a question, listen intently to understand why there’s resistance. To alleviate resistance, you need to truly understand why it exists.

Whatever the issue, always attempt to determine the root cause and come up with a workable solution.

A Firm Partnership Leads to Rockin’ Results

Ask yourself: “Is my SME now playing the same tune as me?” If you implement these strategies, you’ll be sure to set everyone up for a cohesive jam session. With a good designer-SME relationship established, create the design by relying on quality software such as Lectora and ReviewLink, both of which are excellent ways to develop courses and share your work with an SME.

At eLearning Brothers, we can help you take your SME’s content and turn it into eLearning awesomeness. Check out our eLearning development tools here.