Top 2 things you do when working with Subject Matter Experts

Jun 06, 2021

Hello articulaters,

I'm pretty new to ID and I've been struggling with my current SMEs on a recent e-learning build. So I'm being brave and asking you guys (ie experienced course developers) to share your experience. What are your 2 top tips on how you build and manage the SME/ID relationship? I will compile the answers into a blog or document and share it coz I figure it will be a good resource for other beginner Instructional Designers.

I've just downloaded 'The Essential Guide to Working with SMEs" so I shall go and make a cup of tea and have a read. I suspect however that there's nothing like my not-so-great experience to shift me up a notch for my next project. Mostly the problem is I don't know what I don't know ... though I'm finding out pretty quickly! 

Peggy Hailstone

5 Replies
Sarah Hodge

Hey Peggy! Thanks for posting your question here. I just wrote an article on that very topic and included 3 downloads to help build a collaborative partnership with SMEs.

The Essential Guide to Working with SMEs (that you mentioned) also has some valuable info. I hope those resources help! 

Joe Hauglie

Peggy, the things that have worked best for me (in a variety of roles) are the following actions and attitudes:

  • Be respectful. (You'll see this a lot in the resources) The SME is the SME for reason.
  • That being said, you're the complete novice. So you can adopt the "beginner mindset" and get away with always asking the apparently obvious questions. ("Why does it work like that? What happens when...?" and my favorite, "What happens when you push that button?" Etc.) This gives you a tremendous degree of freedom from the "everybody knows" perspective, and helps you to maintain a clear focus on what the learner *really* needs to know.

Once you have each clearly defined your roles, then it's a good thing to define the boundaries and outcomes. So while the SME is the expert in (for example) basketweaving, *you* are the expert in instructional design. And that gives you the same footing as the SME, just in the ID area. That being said, I have also found that it's *very* helpful early on to show the SME(s) what you are doing with their material. That has translated to meetings that are more "show" than "tell;" meaning, you can build simple demos of the material in SL and then walk through these demos in a meeting. (Let the SME be the user.) And after the demo, show the scene layout and explain how the tool works. This way, you both get to be on the same page and you will have to explain less later on about "layers," "navigation," and "controls," for example.

Good luck!