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7 Ways to Partner With Subject Matter Experts


Wed Mar 18 2015

7 Ways to Partner With Subject Matter Experts

Over the last several years, I have designed more than 25 programs in management, leadership, and self-development, as well as train-the-trainer programs. Mostly, I have designed and facilitated my own programs. However, there have been programs that I designed with another subject matter expert (SME), or with a facilitator who was also an SME.

Sometimes SMEs are involved very minimally in the design, and you, as the instructional designer, are free to create your program. At other times, you are working with an SME on each step of the design. Here are some lessons that I have learned from working with SMEs to create learning programs.


Learn the Subject Matter

It is extremely important for you to know the subject matter. Yes, the SME is there to help, but you need to know the subject as much as you possibly can. Your knowledge of the subject will substantially influence the design and the outcomes. For one, you will be able to engage in a meaningful conversation with the SME and stakeholders. You will better understand the context of the training, and how it is going to affect the participants’ job or role.

Understand the Job Context

It is necessary to understand the context of the training. Sometimes you may have a specific idea about a session, but the SME may have a different one. Ask a number of questions; it is essential that you understand what the SME wants. Then, use your knowledge of the topic, as well as your knowledge of instructional design and training, to align the contents and design of the program with learning objectives.

Identify the Facilitators and Participants


Find out who the participants are going to be, and whether or not you are working with an SME. If it is an instructor-led program, ask about the potential facilitators, and their styles and requirements.


I have worked with SMEs who are very different from me in terms of their experiences, jobs, working styles, preferences, or cultures. While this can sometimes be challenging, it also can be rewarding. Differences often create synergy that leads to a better design. A constant challenge to your ideas is a good way to stretch your mind and imagination, and help you come up with creative ideas for your design.

Work with Facilitator SMEs

When your SME is also a facilitator, the whole range of facilitation preferences and styles also comes into the picture when you are designing the program. Designing with other facilitators requires a lot of collaboration. Determine which parts are being facilitated by whom, and develop the contents based on their comfort levels and styles.


Have Confidence in Your Ability

Be sure of your expertise as an instructional designer. The SME may not know the intricacies of instructional design, so you need to identify the most effective design methods to meet the learning objectives. This is true of instructor-led, online, or blended formats.

Be Open to Learning

Working with SMEs is a great learning experience. Respect them for the knowledge, experience, and value they bring to the program, and be prepared to learn something new every time.

Working with SMEs is a great way to create a program. You have more than one expert creating the contents and design, bringing to the program a collective wisdom that makes it memorable and relevant for the participants. The experience can give you many different perspectives, and help you grow into a more knowledgeable, versatile instructional designer.

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