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How to work with your SME when designing elearning

When creating elearning courses, one of the challenges is to make sure that the information that needs to be conveyed is correct and consistent. Potential elearning content may come from several different sources, from people and/or documentation. The most valuable source of information on the content you want to produce is a Subject Matter Expert, or SME.

As an instructional designer, or ID, building a positive relationship with your SME is essential to producing great elearning. You need to recognize that relationships take work, and that requires understanding of some of these dynamics. A coordinated team of instructional designers (IDs) and SMEs is a powerful combination that can work together to create incredible elearning!

Here are some tips on how this team can be most effective at working together.

1. Be an active listener

Active listening is a critical component of any relationship. Let go of your thoughts, opinions, or judgements of the SME, and just listen. Listening is an art form and must be practiced. Make sure you understand what it is they need from you.

2. Appreciate your SME's time

Appreciate your SME and their time. More than likely, your SME has a role in their field that isn’t just being an expert. They probably have other responsibilites in addition to being a SME, therefore you want to be respectful of that. Each of you, the designer and the SME, will contribute important aspects to the content and development of the elearning design.

3. Clarify your roles

The SME will provide the content based on their expertise, and you will adapt the content in order to provide a meaningful learning experience. Generally, SMEs have participated in training via classroom teaching, so in order to work well with the ID the SME needs to understand why the ID has organized the elearning course content they way they have.

4. Be Prepared

Have a working knowledge of at least some of the content before starting work with your SME will greatly help them in providing the specific details of the elearning material without having to take time to instruct you on all the basic content.

5. Stay Organized

Keep things transparent and develop clear and established exceptions and roles. Develop a schedule, a deadline, a progress tracker, and a sign-off document so both sides can stay in sync with each other.

It will also help to show them examples of your work and exemplary eLearning courses you have created. Keep them in the loop with updated information and feedback. This way, you two can set each other up for success to create the best elearning you can together!


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