Working with SMEs


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Working with SMEs

When creating eLearning courses, one of the key ingredients for delivering the program successfully is working with SMEs – subject matter experts – the people who have the key specialist knowledge on your topic. Their input and influence can make or break a project.So what are the crucial factors in working with SMEs successfully? We’ve distilled a short checklist of some of the best practices:

1. Identify your SMEs

Sounds obvious doesn’t it? Identifying your experts is the cornerstone of assembling and refining your material. Perhaps you’ve been given some base material, such as some instructor notes and an existing presentation from an instructor-led session. That’s fine but unless you’re able to communicate with someone that’s an expert on the material, achieving your learning objectives can be a shot in the dark.

And don’t forget that SMEs come in different forms – not just those directly related to the topic. You may have a brand or marketing SME that will be beneficial to involve, or legal, HR, diversity, for example. Identify them early so you know what you need.

2. Get their buy-in early 

Luckily, most SMEs are keen to engage and share their knowledge. If they are not, you may have to really sell the reasons for the course.   Truly understanding the organisational needs for the course will allow you to approach the conversation with the SME well prepared.

Don’t forget to mention that in most cases, your eLearning program may make your SME’s life easier by passing on critical knowledge. For example, your courses may result in less low level enquiries for them following a policy change, or enable an increase in compliance.

If you can’t get buy-in, sell it at a higher level! Or get your senior course sponsor to encourage commitment.

3. Set their expectations

SMEs tend to be busy people. Helping you understand the subject matter may be one of a thousand things your SME is doing.   When you are working with SMEs, you need to let them know upfront what their involvement will be, how much effort they will need to put in and when.  Share the project plan with them, explain the different stages of eLearning development and describe the input you are going to need from them at each stage. Make an estimate of the time you are going to need but over-estimate. Better to need less time than more!

If they can’t commit, reflect that in your project plan – there’s no point in just hoping they might be available! If the project plan gets unacceptably long then see Point 2.

4. Make them aware of eLearning technology

If your SMEs haven’t been involved in a project that involves this technology, then take some time to explore benefits of eLearning with them. For eLearning courses, most people can understand an audio-led presentation with a few multiple choice questions, but do they appreciate the other potential approaches you can use? With your SMEs, explore the possibilities of interactivity, scenario-based learning, gamification and the rest of the/other approaches that are available. This way, you’ll be harnessing their creativity and helping them understand what your aim is when you share scripts, prototypes and actual courses.

5. Filter, filter and filter again

SMEs, by their nature, tend to be hugely passionate about their topic. They want to tell everyone everything about their passion – right down to the finest detail.   Our job as training folk is to filter that mass of raw information down to only the material that relates to our specific learning objectives.  It’s a challenging job. On any review, the tendency for a SME will be to add material, qualify and supplement. Keep reminding them of the time constraints of the average attention span and to keep those learning objectives in mind.

Make sure you make full use of other resources and branches for additional material.

6. Appreciate their involvement

Love your SMEs. Applaud their involvement. Thank them profusely at the end. You never know when you’ll be working with them again…