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Working with subject-matter experts (SMEs) is an integral component of instructional design. As designers, we may not have the knowledge or expertise associated with the content of a course we are designing so we need to partner with someone who does. However, in some cases there may be challenges when partnering with SMEs.
One of the challenges is coordinating schedules with the SMEs and making the most of the time given. How do we overcome these challenges? With a clear and logical process like the one below:
Selecting Subject-Matter Experts:
- Choose an odd number of experts. This will come in handy if there is ever a disagreement.
- Encourage everyone who will have input in the course to attend the interviews.
- Select people who are currently doing the job effectively and who are true job performance experts.
Planning your meeting:
- Determine the specific information you want to collect.
- Prepare a sample task list and/or task analysis as a reference for your SMEs to use. This will serve as a guide to help them understand the information you are, or are not, seeking.
- Prepare copies of the blank task analysis form (to be completed during the interview session).
- Prepare a written agenda. This will allow you to streamline your meetings and help with time management. Time is valuable, and we need to make the most of it!
- Rehearse your opening comments. You do not need to memorize a script but simply rehearse how you will open your meeting. This will show the subject-matter experts you are prepared and credible.
Introducing the session:
- Explain the purpose of the meeting and define everyone’s role. Remember, you are the subject-matter expert in the field of training, and they are the SMEs in the content you will be designing.
- Distribute the agenda.
- Explain the process you wish to follow by discussing the agenda.
- Distribute and review the sample task listing and/or task analysis.
- Avoid training jargon. Use terms the subject-matter expert will understand. For example, instead of calling it a task analysis, call it a step-by-step process or standard operating procedure.
During the meeting:
- Avoid discussing course content until the job has been thoroughly analyzed and recorded. At this stage of the instructional design process we are not building the course but rather analyzing what someone does in their job. Discussing how the content will be presented and applied will only derail you from the true purpose of the meeting.
- Ask questions about the SMEs job and seek confirmation as needed (e.g. “Walk me through how you would conduct a sales call.”).
- Avoid disagreeing with the experts. If you doubt their input, ask questions, seek clarification, or refer to the model.
- Call for a vote if the experts disagree among themselves. Give everyone a chance to speak before calling the vote.
- Pause the discussion immediately if the SMEs are proceeding too fast or if you’re confused. Ask them to slow down or re-explain. You must understand the information being recorded.
- Summarize the information you’ve recorded in your own words to be sure you fully understand the details of the job. Encourage the experts to offer corrections if you make any mistakes.
Following the meeting:
- Send copies of the completed task analysis to all SMEs for a final review.
- Thank them for their attendance and input. Again, they have taken time out of their normal jobs to help you, so thanking them helps to build positive relationships for future projects.
- Send a copy of the worksheets to anyone else who will have input in the course. Explain the information contained on the worksheets was provided by the experts. Inform these people that they must provide their input immediately, not after the first draft of the course is completed.
SMEs are a vital component of the instructional design cycle and using this process will decrease some of the challenges you may face when working with them. Langevin’s Instructional Design for New Designers workshop gives you all the tools you’ll need to work effectively with any subject-matter expert!
What are challenges have you faced when working with SMEs? What are your tried-and-true techniques for working with SMEs? I’d love to hear from you!
This article was first published October 3, 2016