April 5, 2016

Five rules when working with your SME

Working with a subject matter expert (SME) can make or break your eLearning project. As an instructional designer you're the expert on how to best achieve the learning goals identified during the planning phase of your eLearning project. When it comes to the subject matter itself, the content of your eLearning, others come into play who's knowledge and skills you will need to rely on when building an effective learning intervention. These five simple rules will help you make the best out of working with your SME:

  1. The right style: While every SME is an expert in their field, you can't measure everyone by the same yardstick. Some experts prefer a very structured approach to work, some like to go with the flow to get things done. No matter which style your SME is demonstrating, it's your job to adapt and establish an effective working environment with your colleague. They've been doing what they do for a long time most likely. Their style works very well for them and it's part of what made them an expert. To get the most out of your work relationship with the SME you'll need to adapt to their style and not the other way around.

  1. The right context: Your SME won't have the same approach to learning and how training will be most effective; you are the expert when it comes to the learning goals and the right method how to best achieve them. You'll need to do some education of your SME at first so they can visualize the product you both are developing. Show some examples of what you're envisioning for the project, so the SME can better understand where the work is heading.  This will not only help getting a good start but can also motivate your SME to provide input they wouldn't have given without the clear roadmap and goal ahead.

  1. The right content: SMEs often want to cramp every single piece of wisdom into a training. At the end of the day that's why they are on the project, right? To provide as much information and knowledge to the unknowing learner as humanly possible. Wrong. Make sure to capture the essence of the knowledge or skill you are teaching, one good method is to apply the Pareto principle, also known as the "80-20 rule", which states that "for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the cause." This applies to eLearning as well. Focus on the really important 20% and your eLearning will stay short and sweet.

  1. The right frequency: Your SME is an expert, experts usually have important work beside your project as well, which is why it is vital to make the most out of the time you have reserved. Depending on the size of your eLeraning project it could be developed within a week, a month or your collaboration with the SME could stretch over many months. Plan a time slot which your SME is comfortable with and allows for the right balance between contribution to your project and the time you spend together.

  1. The right credits: The content provided by your SME is a big part of your success, share credits when it's time and appropriate to do so. This starts with the meta data of your eLearning, closure documents of the project as well as interaction with your major stakeholders. Acknowledging the effort and expertise brought to the table by your SME will ensure a good relationship if case you are working with the same SME in the future.

Successfully collaborating with SME's is important and often overlooked. By following the five simple rules above you can involve your SME in the best way possible and ensure your learners will get the subject matter they need to achieve their learning goals.

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