12 tips when working with subject matter experts

12 tips when working with subject matter experts

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Subject matter experts (or SMEs). Every business has them – the fountains of knowledge that are critical in helping you to create content.

Whether it’s training courses, informational product guides or inspirational blogs, it’s likely you’ve had to work with an SME to fill in the gaps. For eLearning designers, in particular, it’s really important to build a strong relationship with the SMEs in your organisation.

Not only do they have the nuggets of information you need, but they can also help you create better learning experiences and ensure the accuracy of your content.

These are our top tips for how to get the most out of your subject matter expert relationships.


Top 12 tips for working with subject matter experts

  1. So, who are the SMEs? – It may sound obvious, but one of the first things you need to do is find out who the key subject matter expert is. If you are new or working in a large organisation, it might not be obvious who the person you need to speak to is. But tracking them down and starting up the conversation is sure to pay off in the long run.
  2. Get early buy-in – You need help. Not in general, but with creating your course. And the best way to do this is to strike up a relationship with the right people. Getting to know your SMEs by understanding their role and their knowledge, as well as explaining your own role, can set your working relationship on the right path to success.
  3. Explain the benefits – People are busy and sometimes it’s not easy to get people to agree to help you. Outlining the benefits of your course and how it will impact your organisation is a good place to start. SMEs may be more likely to help if they understand the overall benefit that this piece of content offer.
  4. Set clear processes and boundaries – We love it when a plan comes together. Setting clear objectives and timelines from the beginning is vital. Let your SME know when you will need their support and how much time it will take. This can help them prepare their workload to include supporting your project, rather than taking them by surprise.
  5. Set expectations – Make it clear from the beginning what you actually need from your subject matter experts. This can help you avoid the problem of them becoming too involved. Or the alternative of not being involved at all. Align your expectations to the overall project plan, making it abundantly clear the level of support you need.
  6. Curb their enthusiasm – As a subject matter expert, you probably won’t find anyone more passionate about their area of interest. This can be a blessing… and a curse. On one hand, they want to be involved and they know their stuff. On the other hand, SMEs can sometimes provide too much information or be too technical. Remember to zero in on the information that’s going to be most important to your learners.
  7. One point of contact – It can be great to have an SME closely involved with your project, but they may also be a little over-zealous with their feedback. It’s best to have a single point of contact for feedback – who can then pass back to the relevant members of the design team.
  8. Show them your tools – It can be a good idea to give them a quick run-through of the tools you are using to build the content. If you are using Articulate 360, show them a previous demo so that they have an understanding of what the tool can do. This can ensure that any ideas they have are achievable and not overly ambitious.
  9. Keep them in the loop – As the project progresses, keep your SMEs in the loop. This shows you haven’t forgotten the help they might have given you out the outset, and helps them feel involved if you need to ask for any further help or support. Why give them the opportunity to provide feedback on the storyboard or see a demo of your course?
  10. Stay connected – Keeping in contact with SMEs can be tricky, especially if they’re working in a different location to you or your teams are siloed. Don’t let the communication lines slip, keep them posted on how the project is going and include them in your progress updates.
  11. Give space for feedback – It’s crucial to give your SMEs ample time to review and provide feedback on the content. As the expert, they might spot something that you’ve missed and you also need to give yourself enough time to make amends that they’ve recommended. Host dedicated feedback sessions to keep comments constructive, rather than sporadic or last minute.
  12. Celebrate success – Yay, the project is completed. Don’t forget to celebrate and call out the support you’re received from your SMEs along the way. Does this also mean they’ll be more likely to help you again in future?


How to deal with difficult SMEs

Uh oh, SME not keen on helping you out? Or maybe they don’t have time? It’s really important to outline the benefits of your course. Is it going to increase revenue? Or maybe it’ll save the business precious time by upskilling certain employees? Present the benefits clearly, as well as what you require from them.

Streamline your project by having clear processes and responsibilities and only involve the SMEs when you need to.


How to interview subject matter experts

As part of your process, you may want to interview your SMEs. Give this session plenty of time, so that you can get answers to all of your questions. Prepare a list of questions before you meet with them and make sure to have a notepad or document ready to take notes.

If they start getting off-topic, try to bring them back on course – and don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions if you want them to provide more information. You might not get everything you need from an interview, but it can set you up for success.


Why are subject matter experts important?

It might be simpler to go ahead without the support of an SME, but this really isn’t recommended. They have the information in their head that can really take your course to the next level – not to mention making sure it’s accurate and covering all the relevant information. In fact, you might not be able to proceed in creating your content without the help of an SME.


What is a subject matter expert?

A subject matter expert is a person who has the information you need. They’ll know the details of your courses like the back of their hand, and they’re critical in ensuring the accuracy and quality assurance of your content.

How well you collaborate with subject matter experts might be the difference between a good course and one that is factually incorrect.

Omniplex Learning and SMEs

Our digital learning content team, Omniplex Studio, have vast experience in working with clients around the world. Whether it’s bespoke content designs or course templates, our team will work with your in-house experts to deliver engaging, innovative and accurate course content. Contact our team or visit our Content Design page to find out more.


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