Work smart with your Subject Matter Expert

You have just signed the deal. You are on your way to creating an exciting course for your client. However, depending on the project scope, in most cases, you may be working with a subject matter expert or SME. Do remember, you may be a master at your craft, but a SME will help you in the building process of the course. Subject Matter Experts may be an expert in a topic, subject, and industry; in short something specific.

Below, are a few important points you and your team need to remember to ensure a healthy working relationship with your SME and to meet their expectations or be able to justify why you will need to modify the course to leave a few things out.

List your objectives

Early in the development process, establish the course objectives with the SME. If you have to provide the objectives, review the content carefully and list your objectives. Ensure the SME is on board and understands that based on these parameters, the course will be structured and delivered.

Review the content

Review the content provided by the subject matter expert. Choose what will benefit the learner in an online learning environment. Once you identify, what you need, that will become part of your course content and development process.

Rearrange where necessary

There may be content in Unit 2 which you feel may be relevant in Unit 1 , then rearrange accordingly. Be ready to explain to the SME why you have made decisions in paring content from different sections together; you may need it for a scenario activity or you may require it for an activity or quiz. Where possible, if you can visually show the SME, then do it by showing an example if you already prepared something similar previously.

Content is precious for an SME, not necessarily the learner

At times, you may come across an SME who insists to push through for the content to be made available to the learner. As valuable as the content is, it will lose its meaning if there is an information overload and the learning because tedious instead of informative. This is where as an instructional designer, you step in and address learning theories of adults and the objectives for eLearning.

Create less stress for both parties

If you are prepared, chances are you will be confident when dealing with your Subject Matter Expert. Below I will share with you some of the things which have worked for me.

Open line of communication

Find out their preferred method of communication. If your SME is extremely busy, you do not want to disturb them with phone calls. List your point, send an email or organise a 15 minute Skype call for example.


Again, I cannot stress how important this is. Is the course going to gain only knowledge or is the learner supposed to apply some skills to be able to perform their role? This is where your SME can shed light on, as it will set the whole roadmap for your course development.


Lay them out in your storyboard, as you deem appropriate and then, when you send it for approval before development, the SME will have an idea of how it fits in with the learning outcome. Be specific. If you are planning an activity on a slide, write clear instructions on how the learner will interact with the screen. This gives the SME an idea how the screen will work if the content is being changed from text based to an interactive element.


Working with a Subject Matter Expert can enhance the course and save you time doing research for content development. However, a successful partnership can only take place when you as an Instructional Designer is very clear about why the course is being developed, who it is being developed for and what the learning outcome is. Once, you get these three fundamentals clear, you will be able to deliver a sensational course.


About the Author:

Hemina Shah is an eLearning Specialist at Synotive. She creates engaging and interactive courses for her clients. She believes that if you understand your target audience well, you can create a meaningful eLearning course.