Need more hands-on-deck? Turn a SME into an Instructional Designer!


As design professionals, we are sometimes asked to be all things to all people to fulfill the needs of learners.


And, this can include taking on a SME (Subject Matter Expert). A topic SME is someone who knows the content backward and forwards but doesn’t know anything about good instructional design to create important learning materials and programs.


You have the instructional design-savvy and neuroscience, but the development of a SME into an instructional designer can definitely be a whole new level of challenging.


So, how do you turn a SME into an instructional designer? 


SME to Instructional Designer


It’s not every day that you are tasked with developing an incredibly knowledgeable, content-rich SME into an instructional designer who can build a quality training. But, when it does happen, I’ve got some great tips to help you make that transition easier and faster for you and the newest member of your ID team!


Turn a SME into an Instructional Designer with these 5 Steps:


  1. Begin with the End in Mind
  2. Focus on the Need to Know
  3. Involve Me
  4. Entertain My Brain
  5. Measure Success


The great thing about these five steps is that they can serve as a learning template for any course. And, they can be used with new instructional designers, not just with your SME who has transitioned to instructional design! 


Providing these 5 questions as a template for a course or program design is a great way to help give a simple, directive, and supportive steps for any beginner.


Begin with the End in Mind


This isn’t actually the riddle it sounds like, but it just might be the most important step/question to help your SME consider when you work to turn a SME into an instructional designer. 


Before the content is written, the SME must take some time to visualize the end for each learner. This can prevent creating something that has very little learning value.


Here are some questions to help the SME visualize the end for each learner:


  • What is the intended learner outcome?
  • Specifically, what should learners be able to do after they complete this training?
  • What are our goals here?
  • What are the learning objectives of the training?


Thinking about the end can help the SME visualize the path to completion as well as all of the stops and turns needed along the way. What’s that old saying from Alice in Wonderland? Oh, that’s right, it’s “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.”


SME to Instructional Designer


Not thinking about the end, in the beginning, could take you down a random path of development that leads nowhere.


During this first step, the learning objectives for the course are created, which serve as the anchor for the content. Quality learning objectives focus on learner action, which goes beyond words like “know” and “understand.”


Here is a handy, simple to use action verb resource from the Governors State University website. Click here to check it out. 


Objectives are TRICKY even for the most experienced instructional designers. Even trickier when your focus is to turn a SME into an instructional designer!


Focus on the Need to Know Information


After the learning objectives are fleshed out and you and the SME have a clear path to completion, it’s now time to weed out nice to know information. Basically, you will eliminate any content that the learner does not absolutely need to know right now to achieve success. 


This will allow you to focus on building out the need to know content, which is the content that will help the learner achieve the desired outcomes for the course and the organization.


It’s important that you work with the SME to remove any personal biases related to the content. This can be especially difficult for a SME who is super passionate about the content and who is untrained in instructional design. 


All that to say, you will most likely need to explain why s/he cannot throw everything, including the kitchen sink, into the training materials. 


Sometimes what we LIKE about the topic is not what is most important to the learning objectives and goals. But this can be hard to see and sometimes benefits from a little light shed on the reasons why.


One method to ensure the content focuses on the need to know content is to use curriculum mapping. Curriculum mapping, in this case, means that you map each section of the content back to one or more of the learning objectives.


If the content does not map back to at least one learning objective, you need to challenge why it has been included. In most cases, the appropriate response is to cut the content, but sometimes the fluffy, nice to know content has a purpose. If it does, keep it. If not, goodbye content!


Involve Me


Another developmental milestone to cover as you turn an SME into an instructional designer is learner engagement. 


Once the SME has the learning objectives nailed down, the fluff removed, and the focus is on the need to know content, it’s time to pull it all together in the shitty first draft of the learning experience.


Check out this article by Jason Lengstorf for more information on the Shitty First Draft.


Your task is to help your SME explore the many ways s/he can keep the learner involved and engaged in the learning experience. 


Here are some questions to help your SME come up with ways to involve the learner:


  • Are there stories, personal/real-world experiences that support the content?
  • How could you use stories/experiences to help explain the content?
  • How can the learners share their stories/experiences?
  • What activities could the learners participate in to reinforce/practice the key learnings?
  • What shifts can be made in the delivery to involve learners and avoid lecturing?


Adult learners want to be involved and in control of their learning experiences so it is super important to find many opportunities for this to happen across all learning episodes.


Engage Learners


Now, an important tip for any new instructional designer is that clicking a forward button in an eLearning course is NOT learner involvement or engagement.


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been directed to an “engaging and interactive” course where my involvement was limited to clicking the next button to move to the next screen. Hello, that is NOT involvement or engagement or interactive. It’s a contributing factor to Mouse Finger and not much more.


Don’t get me wrong, forward click buttons are helpful and necessary at times, but they are not a method for involving and engaging the learner as they are often mistakenly thought to be.


Entertain My Brain


When you have a magazine in hand, what do you do? Do you flip through the magazine until you find something interesting to read? I do. 


What makes the article interesting? I am, or my brain is, usually attracted to articles that have a very interesting title OR those that look visually interesting with graphics and photos that attract my eye. 


I really can’t say enough about how important great visuals are to keeping our brains engaged and focused. But not every visual or graphic is valuable!


SME to Instructional Designer


When I was a new instructional designer, I had no idea the value of each and every graphic in a poster, icon, brand, course, billboard, or anything else. I mean, I thought clip art was fun and creative. Shh, don’t tell anyone I told you that! 


Not until I had to build something myself did I understand how many HOURS are invested in finding just the right graphics that serve the right purpose to reinforce key messages in the content.


Today, hunting for the perfect image to support a message is one of my FAVORITE activities when creating a course, video, blog post, or supplemental resource!


If you look at each of the images in this blog post, you will see that I found images that align with or reinforce a key message in this post. 


One trap to avoid is the addition of too many graphics. It’s a balance. You don’t want to have so many that you distract the learners. Visuals are so important, but the right visuals are beyond essential.


Measure Success


We started with Begin with the End in Mind so that we would know exactly what we could evaluate and measure in the end. 


As you work to turn an SME into an instructional designer, this may be one of the hardest development points. 


Why? Until this point, the SME’s experience with learning has most likely consisted of someone delivering content without ever explaining what they are looking for in return from the learner as evidence that learning is taking place.


In school, the evidence was often in the form of a paper or an exam. In the training, your SME creates, however, s/he will need to think outside of his/her personal experience to find other ways to measure learning success. 


Here are some questions to help the SME measure success:


  • How will we evaluate each learning objective was achieved by the learner? What will we look for?
    • Behavior change?
    • Assessment score?
    • Supervisor feedback?
    • Company metric positively impacted?
  • How will we evaluate the learner’s level of readiness to perform?
    • In class check?
    • Post-course survey?


Turn a SME Into an Instructional Designer Action Steps


When I was a new instructional designer, I really could have used the steps outlined above to help avoid unnecessary grief and hours of work! My bet is your SME could too.


So, here is what I want you to do. 

  • Share this post with your SME.
  • Ask your SME to download this supporting handout and fill it out when building his/her course/program.
  • Be a mentor to your SME along the way!


There is tremendous value in working with a SME. And, I believe you will discover that along the way if you haven’t already.


My preference is to keep the topic SME role separate from the ID SME role. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. For instance, many conference speakers are SMEs turned instructional designers. Another example might be someone knowledgeable on a topic, like Excel, who has been asked to lead a lunch and learn. 


It is very commonplace to turn a SME into an instructional designer. The 5 tips shared in this post and the downloadable resources can help you HELP THE SME maximize the learning!


It’s a win-win for everyone. You get to leverage the knowledge and talents of the SME without actually doing all of the leg work! 


Got Questions?


My Facebook Group is a great place to add your questions and engage with other instructional designers on different topics related to instructional design, so jump on in and join the conversation. 







The Testimonials are In:


Shola Richards

Working with Shanwtay and Katie at the Instructional Design Company was a dream come true. Their creativity, expertise, and professionalism throughout the entire process was beyond top notch. I engaged them to help turn my first book into a training course, and I could not be happier with how the final product turned out. If you have an instructional design project and you’re considering which company to work with, you can stop your search and thank me later. They are truly the best in the business.

Shola Richards


Graphic Designer

I joined the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program because I struggled to find jobs in instructional design beyond the development phase. I’ve done a couple of training programs with lots of random projects, but I was overwhelmed, not connecting the dots, and not good at structuring my writing to hit learning objectives. I was looking for motivation and direction at beginning a better Instructional Designer.

After taking the Instructional Design & Tech Certificate program and joining my fantastic team for support, I found the structure and approach to be what I need to take my next steps, evening improving my skills in the development stage.

Gayle Bower


Teacher, Future Instructional Designer

I love how this course let’s you work at your own pace. I got great tips and learned many things. The ongoing support for multiple people and groups is what I love the best. You are never alone in this process. I have been able to adjust my resume and began creating a portfolio of work I’ve completed to add when applying for jobs. I use many of the PowerPoint skills in my lessons and trainings. I would highly recommend this for anyone wanting to become an instructional designer.

Laurie Henderson


Teacher, Future Instructional Designer

I have searched for the last few years to find some suitable career change where I wouldn’t have to earn another degree and where I could use the talents and skills I already have as a teacher. When I came across the Instructional Design Accelerator course, I loved the fact that Shawntay was a former teacher and could relate to a teacher’s need to transition from the classroom. This was what sold the course for me. Her experiences are invaluable especially when translating teacher duties to instructional designer duties. I would (and have) recommended this program to other teachers I know who are looking to transition out of the classroom. I do appreciate ALL of her feedback on my projects!

Wendy McMillian


L&D Project Manager

The Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator certificate program is one of the most comprehensive ID programs out there for beginners. If you’re looking to grow your schools in ID and development then I highly recommend this program. Not only will this program give you an overview of theory, but you will receive a thorough walkthrough of how to apply what you have learned. Although I had already secured a position in Learning & Development when I bought this course, it helped me to move up into a new position as a Learning & Development Project Manager!

Gabby Grimaldo


Future Instructional Designer

If you have any interest in ID, sign up for this program NOW! Shawntay and her team are top notch! The course content exceeded my expectations in a big way and the encouragement and support continues to be so valuable. You will not feel alone going through this course, you will learn so much, you’ll have many cheerleaders, and you will have fun!

Shanna Howe


Future Instructional Designer

I am really enjoying this program! It’s prerfect for someone who is thinking about a career shift to Instructional Design and does not have a lot of experience. This is my first real introduction to Instructional Design and it’s been the perfect beginner course to help me get my feet wet. The modules are broken down well and it’s great to go at your own pace and at your own time. The modules themselves are very comprehensive and you learn a lot from all of them. I really like how each one build upon each other and you’re working towards the bigger project of designing your first training course from scratch. I’m learning so much from going through this course! I was provided great feedback from Katie and Shawntay through the process via Trello Boards, comments on the Google documents, and Facebook group. This course has been well worth the time and effort and I appreciate the fact that I will always have the resources available to me after I complete the training (just in case I’m not quite ready to transition yet).

Aviva Berkowitz


Future Instructional Designer

I can’t say enough great things about the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program! The length of the program is perfect; it doesn’t feel rushed and there’s just the right amount of structure to give you the accountability you need. There are so many opportunities to get live answers to any questions you have related to the course content or anything ID-related! This program gave me the support and structure I needed to both feel affirmed in the relevant skills I already had coming in and to fill in the gaps I had as a career-changer going into ID. Shawntay, Katie, and all the coaches are super helpful and supportive. I now feel confident that I have the tools and access to resources I need to apply for ID jobs without wondering if there’s something I’m “missing” in the preparation process. I’d highly recommend this program to anyone wanting to transition into ID or who just wants to brush up on their skills in the field.

Krista Johnson Awomoyi


Freelance Instructional Designer

I’d highly recommend the Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program. I’m blown away by how much I learned in just 12 weeks. I had ID experience prior to taking this course and was just looking to get a better understanding of applying adult learning principles. This course well exceeded my expectations! Not only did I gain a clear understanding of adult learning principles, I was also able to apply those principles by creating assets for your portfolio using PowerPoint, Adobe Premiere Pro and Storyline. The hands on support that we received was top notch.

Darlene Dalgleish


Instructional Designer

This program is one of the most robust yet fulfilling L&D programs I’ve seen. I learned so much about the industry and about the limitlessness of my own capabilities. I am so appreciative of Shawntay and all of the trainers who took part in the program. They went above and beyond with not only guiding, but communicating live and working one on one or in small groups. If you are on the fence, I say take the leap and you will not regret it! There’s so much to learn, not only from the trainers, but also the learners in your group. Everyone comes in with their own skills and can be additional support and guidance for you. Thank you for creating this program!

Shawnice Edge


Instructional Designer Training Facilitator

Shawntay is an amazing individual. She is very knowledgeable in all aspects of ID and eLearning. She is also very compassionate and loves to help and see everyone around her grow and prosper. Shawntay has been a great mentor to me and she has helped me mature as an instructional designer and eLearning developer. She has provided me with opportunities when others have overlooked me. I am very grateful to have met and built a lifelong relationship with Shawntay.

I recently got hired into my first instructional design / training position and Shawntay was one of the first people to congratulate me!

Brian Hightower


Freelance Instructional Designer

My teacher-to-instructional-designer journey began two years ago when I left my teaching comfort zone and started my first freelance ID job. Now, I’m stepping out of the classroom and taking my freelance work full-time, so I’m thrilled to be joining the Tech Accelerator program. Adding technologies like Articulate 360 and Adobe Premiere Pro to my qualifications will help me take my courses to the next level and attract more clients!

Sarah Smith


Teacher Transitioning into Instructional Design

I am genuinely grateful for this course. I wanted a real-world perspective and feel like I got it. I’m teaching now, but nearing retirement age but can see myself working as an instructional designer well into my retirement years. My other goal is to take as many courses in statistics as possible in hopes of bringing some mathematical precision to the ROI question. Like you say, getting accurate metrics to measure ROI can be a challenge, but I intend to work on that part. That’s unimportant right now, what is important is the fact that I feel like this course was well worth every penny I spent and I would to it again in a heartbeat. I have too much going on right now, but as soon as I get some time freed up I intend to take your course in project management.

Lee R


Turns Your Written Thoughts Into a Masterpiece!

Shawntay Skjoldager can turn your written thoughts into a masterpiece. She is great to work with and the most organized person I know!

Sheryl Rhoades
President and CEO, The Creative Entreprenuer


Shawntay has been incredible!

Shawntay has been incredible and her team is responsive and effective in translating my training programs into professional presentations. Don’t hesitate to contact her for your project.

President and Principal of HRM Consulting, Inc.


IDC is My Secret Weapon to Soar Above My Competition!

The IDC team has been my secret and special weapon of success. They have delivered above and beyond with every single project out in front of them. They have met and beat timelines. They have been Uber responsive every step of the way. I keep them on speed dial and have and continue to recommend them to friends and clients. If you are in need of instructional design and plenty more, this is THE ALL-STAR team that will more than deliver and help make you and your project soar above the competition.

LT. COL. Jason O. Harris
U.S. Air Force Officer, Special Operations Pilot, U.S.A.F. Academy Instructor, Motivational Speaker


A Tremendous Asset to the Project Team!

Working with Shawntay and the Instructional Design Company has allowed our university to meet the growing demands of our programs. Shawntay’s expertise allowed for the course development to be completed on time and met all of the university requirements. Shawntay’s project management skills were phenomenal and allowed my team to work on other areas while she completed this project for us. Her work is of high quality and her professionalism and willingness to help made her a tremendous asset to the project team.

Amanda Buckley
Academic Quality Assurance Specialist, Abilene Christian University


Creative & Highly Talented!

Shawntay is a creative and highly talented instructional designer.  She brought a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and leadership that enabled her to own the design and creation of a full scale facilitator curriculum and train-the-trainer program.  It was a pleasure to partner with Shawntay, her project management and communication skills ensured the project was on time and on budget.

Susan Gatti
President, IMMIXID


Breaks Down Mammoth Projects

“Shawntay is quick study and carefully synthesizes information for presentations that are clear, concise and captivating. Her personality draws the audience in and her content mastery is excellent. A team player and organizer, Shawntay has the ability to break down mammoth projects, keep everybody on time and on task.”

Rick Miller
Author, Speaker, Strengths Coach


eLearning Development

“I have had many opportunities to work with Shawntay—mainly in the support of implementing new eLearning initiatives. I have been very impressed by her ability to quickly learn how to use rapid eLearning development tools and effectively use them to create multiple courses within a short timeframe. Shawntay’s enthusiastic nature, attention to detail, and dedication to her work make her a pleasure to work with and a great asset to both Texas A&M University-Commerce and the broader training community within the Texas A&M University System.”

Ashley Christian
Director of Learning Strategy, Caveo Learning


Top Notch Professional

Working with Shawntay has been an immense pleasure. She is atop notch professional who brings enthusiasm and extensiveexpertise to professional curriculum development and execution. Her knowledge of tried and true techniques to maximize the effectiveness of presentations is invaluable.

Nancy Drapeau, PRC
Vice President of Research, CEIR - Center for Exhibition Industry Research


Fortunate to Find Shawntay!

“I was fortunate to find Shawntay when our organization was looking to expand and update our educational offerings. Shawntay proved herself to be an educational and personal development expert who immediately made an impact with our clients throughout Europe. Everyone who came into contact with Shawntay was immediately impressed by her level of expertise and willingness to share her knowledge with those around her. I would not hesitate to recommend Shawntay to anyone looking for an education subject matter expert.”

Jonathan Burt
Director of Qualifications and NSD Services, Mary Kay Inc.


Short Turn Around. On Time. Under Budget!

“We hired Shawntay to develop a training facilitator’s guide and PowerPoint slide deck for an operations manual heavy with technical content. The project was made more challenging by a very short turn around, 5 business days, and the fact that the operations manual wasn’t complete and was being updated simultaneously with the facilitator’s guide and slide deck. Despite these challenges, Shawntay delivered as promised. On time and under budget.”

Dave Beeman, CPP
Vice President, Andy Frain Services


Need an Expert Who Consistently Delivers?

“Working with Shawntay you will immediately notice her professional presence and poise, but over time her tenacious pursuit of excellence and her skills in instructional development and adult learning will really impress you. I worked with her at Mary Kay, and was able to experience firsthand her great rapport with regional partners in Europe, understanding their unique sales force training needs. In addition, Shawntay consistently exhibited grace under pressure, made executive decisions to move business forward. If you are looking for an expert who consistently delivers and goes the extra mile to get things done, contact Shawntay!”

Mellora Moore
Marketing Director, Academic Partnerships


Quality Products & Solutions!

“I had had the pleasure of knowing and working with Shawntay on more than a few occasions. I found her to be a very good business partner and very committed to delivering a quality product or solution in a timely manner. I have always had a positive experience in partnering with Shawntay and would recommend that you consider leveraging her talent.”

Judy Owen, CPC
Transformational Leadership Coach


“Invest in yourself and take your skills to the next NEXT level!”

Get yourself signed up for Shawntay Skjoldager’s Instructional Design & Tech Accelerator Certificate Program today and be on your way to success! Within the first week of taking her course, you will experience growth! Be sure to plug into her Facebook Q&A sessions for personalized help, too. This is THE course to take if you are new to instructional design or have landed on the training team and need help getting started.

Patrick Hodges
Managing Partner, PHiG


“Her enthusiasm for adult learning is contagious!”

Shawntay has exceptional knowledge and experience with all aspects of creating and implementing effective, performance based training for adults. She is exceptional at needs analysis – identifying target audiences and collaborating with business owners to keep training focused on business needs. And she is great to work with – always providing great support to get projects done on-time and on-target. She is always on the look-out for new and more effective ways to engage learners. Her enthusiasm for adult learning is contagious!

Mike Stubblefield
eLearning Developer/Instructional Designer, Vivos Therapeutics


“Spot on”

I have known and worked with Shawntay  as a education program director and use the expertise of ShawntayMichelle for the development of my presentations.  The service has always been “spot on” with professionalism, care and attention.  Shawntay’s recommendations to my ideas make me look good to my clients.

Owner, Certified Consulting Services


“Shawntay Skjoldager reached in and made my training life so much easier!”

I am new to the training design and development world and I was SO excited to get in there, but I really lacked the real-world knowledge that would set me apart from my peers. And, then Shawntay Skjoldager walked into my life with an outstretched hand and a seemingly endless list of ways to knock every training out of the park. From the Training Analysis Form to the Tay Tay tips, this course made my life so much easier and even ironed out the review process that I had been struggling with for months.

Take time to invest in your own learning and make sure to put Shawntay Michelle at the top of your personal development list!


Katie Carter
Training Specialist, LegalShield

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