Empower Your SMEs to Create Better E-Learning with These 4 Tips

In almost every tier of an organization, there’s that go-to person—a subject matter expert (SME) who knows the operation inside and out. And with all of their invaluable expertise, it’s only natural that they’d be a great fit for creating e-learning, right?


While some SMEs successfully create e-learning single-handed, that’s not the norm. More often, SMEs partner with instructional designers because the SME lacks the time and technical skills to create e-learning on her own. Instructional designers also provide invaluable expertise in prioritizing and organizing information in a way that’s easy for folks to understand and apply.

But depending on your work environment, this kind of instructional design expertise may be in very short supply...or even non-existent. SMEs may need to do some or all of the e-learning heavy-lifting. If this sounds like your situation, you’re probably wondering how you can help your SMEs become successful e-learning developers. Here are some pointers that can help you lay the groundwork.

Introduce Them to Instructional Design Basics

From the initial needs analysis to writing the content and crafting an engaging visual design, there’s a LOT of work that goes into designing and developing e-learning. It’s just not realistic to expect your SMEs to know how to do all of that stuff without giving them the basics first.

In a perfect world, you’d be able to assign an instructional design mentor to your SME. But the next best thing is a little instructional design/e-learning bootcamp courtesy of free resources. Not to toot our own horn here, but E-Learning Heroes is great for this kind of material. In fact, here are a few essentials that are perfect for those who are just getting started:

Prepare Them with Templates and Examples

Occasionally, SMEs may have a natural knack for e-learning design work, but it’s more likely you’ll need to give them some concrete guidance. That guidance can take many forms, but the most helpful things include:

  • Project templates that are designed with easy-to-use layouts and graphics. Content layouts like the ones in Content Library 360 give SMEs great looking designs with friendly prompts in the text placeholders telling them what content works best where.
  • Example courses that model the “ideal course” and give your SMEs something they can use as a reference or as a guide for their own designs. Check out our examples hub for ideas or round up some examples in-house, if you can.
  • A style guide that clearly defines design requirements for consistent course look and feel, colors, graphic placement, or when to use which template layouts for which activities. Here are some great tips on what you should include in an e-learning style guide.
  • Media assets like character packs, screen backgrounds, and button icons that save busy SMEs some time. Ideally, you’ll want to give them assets that don’t require much, if any, image editing. Content Library 360 comes packed with a broad array of illustrated and photographic characters with transparent backgrounds, making it easy for SMEs to drop in a character and start building. Also take a look at the E-Learning Heroes downloads hub for tons of freebies.

Get Them the Right Tools for the Job

Many e-learning authoring tools come with a bit of a learning curve. If your SME only needs to create straightforward courses without a lot of branching scenarios or complex simulations, perhaps all he needs is something that’s quick and easy for anyone to learn—no matter his skills or experience with e-learning.

Tools like PowerPoint are pretty easy for folks to pick up quickly but, for my money, Rise 360 is an even better fit for SMEs. That’s because it’s web-based (no software to install) and has a seriously intuitive UI. Creating a course structure with lessons is as easy as typing lesson and section names and dragging them in the order you want. It’ll help e-learning newbies quickly organize content. And creating those lessons is just as easy. They’re beautifully designed, already optimized for desktop and mobile devices, and all you have to do is swap out your text and media. It’s totally painless to insert screencasts, add existing videos, and create quizzes in Rise 360. SMEs will love it.

Give Them Feedback

Just as you’d do with any project, it’s a good idea to check in periodically to see how things are going. Not only will check-ins help you evaluate your SME’s progress as an e-learning developer, but it’ll also give you a chance to catch mistakes and misunderstandings as lessons are developed...and before the entire course is completed.

It’s also a good idea to plan some time for a thorough quality review (or QA process) before you roll out the final course to learners. This kind of review helps to catch any technical glitches, grammatical errors, or other design mistakes that might interfere with learning.

And if you’re looking for a way to make this review process quick and painless, I absolutely love Review 360. It’s integrated right into the publishing options in Storyline 360, Studio 360, and other Articulate 360 content authoring tools. Even better, it captures feedback in context, meaning your busy instructional-designer-in-training doesn’t have to waste her time deciphering cryptic notes to figure out what needs to be changed.

Wrapping Up

Empowering your SMEs to become content creators is a great way to help accelerate the pace of content creation and sharing in your organization. We hope these tips will help you get more folks engaged in e-learning. And if you’re empowering your SMEs to create better e-learning, we’d love to hear how it’s going! Tell us about it in the comments.

Want to try something you learned here, but don't have Articulate software? Start a free 30-day trial of Articulate 360, and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning.