When it comes to building online courses, you’re the expert. You can build interactions that engage even the most reluctant learners, write quiz questions like a pro, and you have a sixth sense for how to organize information. But when it comes to the content that goes into your courses, you might find yourself at the mercy of your subject matter experts (SMEs).

Your SMEs give you the information and feedback you need to build engaging, informative, and relevant online courses. When things are going well with them, your projects run smoothly, you have the information you need to design your course, and you meet your deadlines. But when things aren’t going so well, you might end up with a ton of irrelevant content, a frustrated team, and missed deadlines.

When it comes to your course’s success, SMEs play one of the most important roles. So why take chances with these important folks? Here are a few simple guidelines to help you build and maintain a great relationship with them.

Get to Know Your SMEs

If you want your project to be successful, it’s important to establish a good working relationship with your subject matter experts. They play a key role in ensuring that you get the information you need and they will provide crucial feedback on the course materials you design. 

Before you start talking shop with your SMEs, introduce yourself and get to know them a little better. That way, next time you need information from them, you can start the conversation by asking them how their daughter’s graduation went, rather than immediately grilling them for information.

Show Your SMEs What You’d Like to Accomplish

Most of the time, your SMEs assume your course will look and feel just like the other e-learning courses they’ve seen in the past. Keep in mind that they might have a hard time visualizing what you want to create and you may need to take a few steps to help them understand what you're designing.

Show your SMEs two or three relevant e-learning  examples. Show them examples that demonstrate the types of interactivity and content that you're looking to create, so they have an idea of what it is you're looking to do. For example, if you want to build some scenarios, show them some examples of e-learning scenarios so they understand how they work and what kind of content to include.

When you take the time to do this, it will help them understand what you’re creating and possibly even inspire them to contribute ideas of their own.

Ask the Right Questions

One of the biggest challenges of working with SMEs is getting them to share the relevant information that’s important for the learners to know. 

The best way to get the information you need is to prepare a list of questions ahead of time. This helps you get right to the point and also shows that you have respect for their busy schedules.

Here are five questions to help guide your conversation in the right direction:

1. What topics or situations cause the most confusion for learners?

2. What three things do we want learners to understand after taking this course?

3. Describe a situation where learners will apply this knowledge or skill on the job.

4. What processes do we need to outline to help learners complete the course?

5. Do you have any stories or reference materials that will help learners relate to what we’re teaching them?

Depending on your course, you might have many other questions you need to ask, but these five will help you gather the best-possible information from your SMEs before they have to run off to their next meeting.

Give Kudos to Your SMEs

When your SMEs come through for you, whether by delivering great content or devoting extra time to your project, be sure to show your appreciation. One of the best things you can do is send their managers an email praising their efforts (and copy them on it). 

This not only serves you well immediately, but it also pays off down the road, especially if you find yourself in a situation where you need more of their time or help on another project.       

At the end of the day, it can be challenging to work with SMEs to gather the right information, capture and consolidate their feedback and opinions, and collaborate with them to develop the best possible course. But no matter what many challenges you face, the most important thing you can do is to show your SMEs that you value them and what they have to offer. The better relationship you have with them, the more successful your e-learning projects will be.

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