A Dozen Tips to Work Effectively With Your SMEs

A Dozen Tips to Work Effectively with Your SMEs

A Subject Matter Expert (SME) has the knowledge and experience you need to create course content. The trick is drawing out that information and using it effectively for your specific needs.

The relationships you’re able to build with SMEs will ultimately determine the quality of your content and how applicable it is to your particular course.

In this article, we’ll give you A Dozen Tips to Work Effectively With Your SMEs

#1 Pick The Right SME For The Job – If you have a say in it, start the project off by suggesting the right SME for the job. The customer or stakeholder may make the final decision on selecting the SME, but providing them with guidance can help them make the best selection possible. Discuss the realistic time commitments, level of expertise needed, involvement required, etc. Beginning with a “qualified” and prepared SME can save you major hiccups in the future.

#2 Embrace Collaboration – Understand that working with an SME is always a two-way street. They are providing content suggestions, you’re shaping/editing that content into a concise learning experience and returning it to the SME for validation. Remember that it is a collaboration.

#3 Define What Content Is Needed – Explain the content gathering process. Don’t dump this task entirely on your SME to figure out. Define exactly what you need as it relates to your specific course requirements so you’re not wasting time reviewing/cutting unnecessary content.

#4 Define Roles – Thanks and appreciation goes a long way. Make it clear from the beginning that you value your SME’s knowledge, time, and contribution.

On the other side of the coin, make it clear that their role is to provide the content, and your role is to shape it into a meaningful and engaging learning experience. During your first interview, discuss how you both relate to the project and how you can bring your specific sets of skills to create an incredible course.

#5 Do Your Homework –  You need to show up prepared and demonstrate to your SME the level of effort you’re willing to put forward. Your goal isn’t to match the SMEs “expert” level of knowledge, but rather earn their respect and show them that you came to play.

  • Read up as much as you can on the topic and prepare a detailed questionnaire.
  • Ask both specific questions and open-ended questions to discover what you need to know, and what you didn’t even know to ask.
  • Does your SME have insights on what difficulties learners may face in understanding the topic?

#6 Use Examples –  SMEs are NOT instructional designers or course creators. Presenting them with similar end-products of what you’d like your course to look like will give them a much better idea of the content you need them to provide. Additionally, wow them with impressive examples to get them on board with creating the best course possible.

#7 Get Them Involved – Include the SME in the development experience so they’re vested in the project and know how they fit into the big picture.

  • Define expectations – in writing.
  • Set a schedule for follow-ups, reviews, and meetings ahead of time.
  • Agree on deadlines and how success will be determined.
  • Take thorough notes and revisit those notes if there’s any confusion.

#8 Keep Them Involved – Keeping your SME interested in your project will help them be more receptive to the review process and future requests if needed.

  • Continue to ask questions to show that you value their opinion, expertise, and relationship.
  • Revisit why they think the topic is valuable or interesting.
  • Once they see the direction that your course is taking, ask your SME what benefits learners could glean from the topic.

#9 Provide Feedback – Keep your SME on track by providing routine feedback and acknowledging their work and time.

  • Instead of major edits/reviews that may be overwhelming, try minor adjustments along the way to help keep them focused and able to manage your requests.
  • Review material as soon as it becomes available. This ensures it’s what you’re looking for and also sets the precedent of a timely turnaround.

#10 Don’t Railroad – During your initial meetings with your SME, avoid using pre-existing content, templates, or guidelines. You want your SME to be innovative and flexible with the content they provide – not duplicate or rework someone else’s content.

Additionally, don’t begin with preconceptions about the best content for the job – your SME is there to provide this.

#11 Chopping Is Part Of The Process – Most conflict with SMEs comes when you ask them to edit (heavily) the information they’ve provided. You’re asking them to condense a lifetime of knowledge and work into short and concise nuggets for your course.

  • Be willing to compromise a bit. Include enough content without detracting from its digestibility.
  • If too much content is spilling out of your course, consider including resources to that material instead of trying to cram it all in.
  • If your SME is insistent that the information they provide is actually vital to the learner’s understanding of the topic, you may need to revisit your learning objectives and break them down into more manageable modules.

#12 Don’t Be “The Boss” –  Finally, remember to work with your SMEs as colleagues, not as their supervisor. Most are professionals that will respond much better to a collaborative vs. hierarchical atmosphere.

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