Working with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) is a challenging yet important part of successful course design. Instructional designers often have to find creative ways to obtain all the required information from their SME. Here are some suggestions that you may find helpful when dealing with Subject Matter Experts.
- Involve SMEs from the beginning – When SMEs are involved in a project from the very beginning, they feel needed and are more willing to share their knowledge with you. Whenever possible, ask the SME why the course is needed and what should happen as a result of the course. You should also ask your SMEs to help you brainstorm the information required for the training. Then, create a prototype and ask the SME to follow and correct it, if necessary. Always ask the SME why they feel the information is important and whether or not this information is required to achieve the objective.
- Ask the SME to categorize information – When your SME presents you with the content, ask him/her to identify the information as either Basic, Intermediate, or Advanced. This will help you figure out what needs to be included in the training targeted for your audience. For example, if you are responsible for developing a course for true beginners, you may decide to eliminate the Intermediate and Advanced information, and only use the information that was identified as Basic by your SME. Another way to break down the content is by identifying absolutely essential or must-know material, need to know and nice to know information.
- Ask the SME to share stories – Ask SMEs to share their experiences and write down or ask permission to record their anecdotes. To make sure you will be able to make use of these stories, ask specific questions that you would like to find answers to. For example: “Tell me about a time when…” or “What was the most difficult problem that you had to solve and what did you do to resolve the issue?” Try to get at least two stories and choose the most valuable one for the opening of your training.