4 Tips for Working With SMEs

Ah, SMEs. The heart and soul of any project. No matter how great we are at creating learning solutions, we will not even get off the ground without the right content and context. Yet sometimes, working with SMEs can be one of the most difficult parts of the process. Whether you are working on an eLearning, mLearning, or Leader-Led training project, you will need to maximize this relationship.

First off, what is a SME? SMEs are subject matter experts providing guidance and explanation as you are building training on a given topic.  For example, when we worked with Healthy Families to produce a learning solution, our SME provided lots of content on substance abuse and treatment options that we may not have found on our own. Despite his knowledge and expertise, he could not tell us how to teach a home visitor to recognize these signs and talk with a caregiver about their own substance abuse problem. SMEs will provide you with the raw information, but it is up to the learning designer to figure out how to teach the content and make it easily accessible.

Working with SMEs will always be different depending on the project, but here are some practical tips to get you started. 

1.Recognize value they bring to the table: Position them as an expert in their content and you as an expert on learning and how people learn. Setting up their role vs. your role and how you are going to work together.

2. Help them take a step back and inquire if they want to make learner a SME as well. What level of proficiency they are trying to make the learner gain?Because of their position and knowledge, SMEs will always be tempted to provide more knowledge than the learner can actually absorb.

3. Don’t assume SME understands how the learning solution is being designed and produced. Take the time to fully walk them through every step of process and show them deliverables produced at each stage. Where do they plug in? How much time will they spend on each step? How will you interface with them?

4. Clarify who ultimate decision maker is. Many times it isn’t the SME, it’s important to set this up. Is your SME there to be a consultant, or make the final decision? This is critical.

We’d love to hear your stories on some best practices for maximizing the relationship between learning designer and SME.