Illustration showing a bullet list with 3 bullets

As an instructional designer, most of the courses I’ve designed are on topics I knew absolutely nothing about beforehand. And some of the subject matters were super technical! Things like vaccines or industrial tools, for example. 

When I tell people that, they’re often surprised. How can you create training on topics you don’t know anything about? Great question! And that’s exactly what we’ll take a look at in this article.

1. Do Your Research

If the source material you’re provided isn’t enough to get you up to speed on the topic, do your own research. If the topic isn’t specific to the organization you’re creating the training for—for example, a course on project management or leadership—you should be able to find additional information online. For company-specific topics—like training on a proprietary tool or an internal procedure—see if there’s any existing documentation beyond what you’ve been given. If there isn’t, move on to tip number two.

2. Lean on Your Subject Matter Expert (SME)

Your SME is there for this exact purpose. You’re the instructional design expert and they’re the content expert. Together, you can create a course that’s both accurate and effective.

So don’t be shy—make a list of questions and ask them. SMEs are usually so passionate about the course topic, they end up giving you more information than you need. But a little extra background can’t hurt!

If your SME doesn’t have a lot of time to dedicate to the project, ask them if they can point you to someone who can answer your questions. If not, maybe they can give you additional documentation to look through on your own. And if there are no other existing resources, try following one of these tips to get them on board with the project and dedicate a little more time to it.

3. Talk to Your Learners

Sometimes SMEs don’t have all the information you need. For example, they don’t always know the ins and outs of learners’ day-to-day tasks and therefore they might not know exactly how they’ll apply the course content on the job. Or maybe they don’t have a real sense of learners’ level of prior knowledge on the topic. 

If that’s the case, the only way to get this information is to go directly to the source—the learners. If your stakeholders hesitate to involve learners in the course creation process, remind them that the only way you can ensure the course meets the learners’ needs is if you talk to them about what their needs are.

The Bottom Line

You don’t need to be an expert on the course topic to make an effective training course. With a little research and some strategic partnerships, you can get the job done.

Want more instructional design tips? Check out these helpful resources:

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