Subject Matter Experts, or SMEs, are crucial in developing high-quality eLearning content that is accurate, engaging, and effective. Working effectively with SMEs can make or break your eLearning project. In this blog, we will explore the best ways to collaborate with SMEs to create eLearning that is both informative and engaging.
🔍 What you’ll find in this post
What is a subject matter expert?
A SME is an expert within their professional field who provides their knowledge and insight. For eLearning, this means they know all the details of what your training needs to cover, but it’s up to you to figure out how to get that information out of their heads and in front of your learners. Sometimes they already teach this content themselves, and have training materials available to start with. But other times it’s more involved, and requires extracting that knowledge a bit at a time to craft your full-fledged training.
Why do we need them?
Sure, Google is great. But lived experience direct from the source is better. Working with a professional SME lends more credibility to your project, and lessens the likelihood of feeding your learners incorrect information. Collaborating with subject matter experts can be tricky, but it’s worth it to improve the quality of your training.
What are best practices for collaborating with subject matter experts?
We’ve compiled a list of fifteen bits of advice we can offer when working with subject matter experts. Hopefully you’ll find them helpful as you navigate your next project!
1. Establish a strong partnership
With any professional relationship, it’s important to start off right. Begin by building a strong partnership with your SMEs. Open and transparent communication is essential. Explain your role and how you can work together to achieve the project's objectives. Discuss the importance of their expertise and how it will be showcased through the eLearning content. You’re both professional experts - they know the subject matter, and you know training.
2. Clarify roles and responsibilities
Clear roles and responsibilities are crucial in avoiding misunderstandings and ensuring a smooth eLearning collaboration. Document and share a project plan that outlines who does what, when, and how. Define roles such as the instructional designer, content creator, reviewer, and project manager. This document should also detail the milestones and deadlines for each phase of the project.
3. Understand the SME’s expertise
To collaborate effectively with SMEs, it's vital to understand their expertise. Do your homework! Take the time to learn about their background, knowledge, and experience in the subject matter. This not only helps you build trust but also ensures that you can tap into their knowledge effectively when developing eLearning content.
4. Involve SMEs early in the process
Don’t just ask a SME to review a completed project! Incorporating SMEs from the beginning of the eLearning development process is crucial. They can provide valuable insights into the target audience, learning objectives, and content requirements. When SMEs are involved early, it becomes easier to align the eLearning content with their expertise….and can avoid rework down the line
5. Define learning objectives
Clearly defined learning objectives are the foundation of effective eLearning. Collaborate with SMEs to establish these objectives, focusing on what learners should know or be able to do after completing the course. This collaboration ensures that the content remains relevant and on target. It also ensures you have a roadmap to follow and avoid tangents that are not essential to the learning.
👉 Dive deeper: Be sure to grab a copy of this free book all about developing solid learning objectives.
6. Adapt to different styles
SMEs may have different teaching and communication styles. Adapt your approach to meet their preferences while ensuring the eLearning content remains engaging and effective. Work together to find a common ground that satisfies both instructional and subject matter needs.
7. Use a content framework
To maintain consistency in eLearning materials, develop a content framework that outlines the structure, format, and standards for the content. Work closely with SMEs to establish these guidelines, ensuring that they align with the project's objectives and their expertise. Agreeing to these guidelines up front helps limit confusion and potential disagreements later.
8. Facilitate regular meetings
Consistent communication is always key to a successful collaboration. Schedule regular meetings with SMEs to review progress, share updates, and discuss any challenges or concerns. Video conferences, emails, and collaboration tools can help bridge geographical gaps and maintain a strong partnership.
9. Provide templates and guidelines
Offer SMEs templates and guidelines for creating content. These resources can help them organize their knowledge in a format suitable for eLearning. Guidelines can include writing style, content structure, and image selection criteria. Remember this is a collaborative activity - if your SME already uses tools or templates they are comfortable with, try to incorporate them into your processes.
10. Encourage constructive feedback
Feedback is essential for improving eLearning content. Encourage SMEs to provide constructive feedback on the content drafts. Highlight that the goal is to enhance the learning experience, not criticize their expertise. Be receptive to their feedback as well, fostering a two-way feedback loop.
11. Ensure accessibility and inclusivity of content
In the eLearning development process, consider accessibility and inclusivity. Collaborate with SMEs to ensure that content can be easily accessed and understood by all learners, including those with disabilities or diverse backgrounds.
👉 Learn more: Be sure to check out our guidelines for designing accessible eLearning.
12. Leverage technology and tools
Use eLearning authoring tools and technologies to facilitate collaboration with SMEs. These tools can streamline the content creation process, making it easier for SMEs to provide input and review content. Leverage cloud-based platforms for real-time collaboration.
13. Maintain version control
Version control is essential when multiple stakeholders are involved in eLearning development. Implement a system for maintaining different versions of the content, and be sure to define who is responsible for maintaining the current version. This allows you to track changes and maintain the integrity of the content. Version creep when collaborating can be a nightmare.
14. Pilot testing and evaluation
Before releasing eLearning to a wider audience, conduct pilot testing with SMEs and a small group of learners. This will help identify any issues or opportunities for improvement, gather feedback, and make necessary revisions. Collaborate with SMEs to ensure that the final product meets the desired learning objectives, and is as accurate as possible.
15. Continuous improvement
eLearning is an evolving field, and collaboration with SMEs should not end with the completion of one project. Maintain an ongoing relationship to ensure that eLearning content remains up-to-date and relevant. Regularly review and refresh the content based on feedback and changing industry standards.
The big picture
Collaborating with subject matter experts to create eLearning content is a dynamic process that requires effective communication, teamwork, and adaptability. By establishing a strong partnership, clarifying roles and responsibilities, involving SMEs early in the process, and maintaining open and consistent communication, you can harness their expertise to develop high-quality eLearning materials that engage learners and meet educational objectives. Effective collaboration with SMEs not only ensures the accuracy and relevance of content but also enhances the overall learning experience for your target audience.
Here at EdgePoint Learning, we understand the importance of SME involvement and how to get the best out of them. We excel at orchestrating diverse teams and collaborating with subject matter experts to create relevant, engaging content. Get in touch today to learn more!