One of my favorite things about being an e-learning designer is creating courses on a wide variety of topics. I’ve learned so much over the years! When I look back on it, it’s almost like I had to become an expert in every subject in order to create the most effective learning experience. And while some of my knowledge came from my own research, more often than not it was gleaned from the content provided by my project’s Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

Subject Matter Experts play a critical role in course design. They have the knowledge, experience, and insight to help you create the most impactful training. Despite their importance to your projects, working with SMEs can also be challenging. From different perspectives around how content should be presented to old-fashioned beliefs around how people learn, many e-learning pros find themselves in a battle of wills with their SMEs when all they really want is a productive partnership. 

This problem can be especially vexing when creating custom e-learning in a powerful app like Storyline 360. With so many creative possibilities, there are countless ways to present content. So how do you help your SMEs visualize different treatments and bridge gaps in understanding, all while building positive relationships with your SMEs? 

Here are three documents I’ve found essential for communicating clearly and aligning expectations from the start.  

Document 1: Project Kickoff Questions

Before meeting with your project’s SMEs, it pays to do a little prep work. If you already have some source content pulled together, study it to get a basic understanding of the material. And if you don’t have content, research the topic or the company to make the most of your time with your SMEs. As you study, prepare a list of questions to help guide the conversation and show the SME how much you value their time.

Need to kick-start your thinking? Download and customize this Project Kickoff Questionnaire for your needs. 


With all of your prep work done, you’re ready to set up a meeting with your SME to discuss the project. Make sure to bring your list of questions, and then listen actively and take notes. This is your time to build trust with your SMEs and identify knowledge and performance gaps to determine the right solution. 

Document 2: Project Plan

After you determine the right solution, it’s time to put the details in writing so you’re all on the same page. A project plan can be a great way to align expectations. In the project plan, you can include the project background, course information, deliverables, timelines, and any other important details. Once you’re done preparing the project plan, have the SME review it and confirm its accuracy before moving forward with design. 

Need help creating a project plan? I’ve got you covered! Download this free project plan template. 


Document 3: Storyboard

Now that you and the SME are on the same page, it’s time to start designing the project. If you’re using a slide-based authoring app like Storyline 360, the best way to make sure you have a solid foundation for development is to create a storyboard. A storyboard is the blueprint for a course that outlines the content screen by screen. Storyboards help your SMEs visualize how the content will flow and allows them to make edits before you start development in your authoring app.   

Note: If you’re using a web-based authoring app like Rise 360, you can skip the storyboarding phase and go straight to development since it’s easy to use and quick to make changes.

Need help getting started? Then download and customize this storyboard template with your content. 


What Next?

After the storyboard is finalized, you can feel confident knowing you have a solid foundation to start building your course. Taking the time to develop project kickoff questions, create a clear project plan, and storyboard the content before you start developing it in your authoring app will set you, the SME, and the learners up for success. 

For more ideas on working with SMEs, check out this series on Everything You Need to Know About Working with SMEs.

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