A subject matter expert (a.k.a. The SME) can really spice up the instructional design of your training with real-world application and examples. Bringing training to life with relevancy and real-world application can be hard to achieve, especially if you don’t know the content well.
This is where your SME comes in. You don’t have to design your training courses on your own.
You can rely on the expertise of a subject matter expert (SME) to help you build sticky training content.
What’s sticky content? Sticky content is content that sticks with the learner long after the training has ended.
SME or No SME
When should you use a SME? Unless you know the training content really well, I recommend using a SME whenever you can. SMEs aren’t always available, but when they are, they can save you a ton of leg work during the Analysis phase.
Instead of putting yourself through a crash course on your topic or scouring the internet and existing resources, you can go directly to the expert for information.
Don’t Give the Training Away
One piece of advice about using a SME, however. Don’t give the training to the SME to create, if you can avoid it. I can’t count the number of times I have been told to “Let the SME build the training. They know the topic better than anyone.”
It is true that the SME typically knows the topic better than anyone else. By definition, the SME is the subject matter expert in that subject area.
But, and I mean a huge but, the SME is not a SME in instructional design! You are the SME of instructional design, which means you shouldn’t turn the training over to the topical expert to build the training.
It should be a partnership. A collaboration between you and the topical SME to build content-rich training that really engages learners with sticky content.
So, the next time you hear, “Let the SME build the training. They know the topic better than anyone.” be sure to suggest a collaboration instead of wiping your hands clean of the project.
More often than not, you will create a much better training through collaboration than either one of you would as a solo act.
The bulk of your information collection occurs in the Analysis phase of the ADDIE model. So, if you are going to interview a SME, the Analysis phase is usually when you do it.
After all, SME interviews are just another method of collecting information. They are a little more specific than the Training Analysis and Scoping Meeting, though.
In the Training Analysis and Scoping Meeting, you ask a lot of questions that are high-level and open-ended. Whereas in the SME interview, you niche down your questions to ask very specific questions about the content.
You ask questions you can’t easily get the answers to on your own.
Prepare for the Subject Matter Expert Interview
After completing the Training Analysis (download here) and the Scoping Meeting, you will have a pretty good idea about what should be included in the training. You just need to dig into the content a bit more with the help of the SME to understand what learners must know in order to perform better.
Before the SME interview takes place and before you send the calendar invite, prepare a list of 5-10 questions for your SME to review prior to the interview. During the interview, you will have the opportunity to ask more questions. The initial list of questions will help your SME prepare for the interview as well as understand what direction you are taking the training.
Once the questions are ready, send them to your SME along with a list of the Learning Objectives and any success metrics that have been identified for the training. This will give your SME the opportunity to mull things over before you meet.
And, if your SME is too busy for a face-to-face, your SME can respond to the questions via email. A meeting is preferred but an email is better than nothing.
Collect Now and Sort and Organize Later
Be intentional with how you use your time with your SME. If you get any time in front of a SME, count your blessings. They are usually very busy, and training is often the last item on their To-Do list. Respect their time by being prepared and ready to capture the information they share.
This is the time to ask clarifying questions about things you don’t understand. This is not the time to sort and organize your information. You can do that later after the SME interview.
SMEs are extremely valuable to your instructional design process because they are incredibly knowledgeable about their subject area. This can be a plus and minus if you aren’t careful.
Going into your SME interview, you need to know exactly what information you are looking for. Your Learning Objectives can help you keep the focus on the Need to Know content.
The Need to Know content is the information that the learner will need to know in order to perform specific activities or demonstrate a change in behavior.
Because SMEs are such rich sources of information, many have the tendency to share everything they know. This isn’t helpful if it is off-topic. One of your responsibilities is to ensure the SME knows what the Learning Objectives and the scope of the training are.
If the conversation gets off topic, reel it back in.
How do you know if something is off topic? If the content does not cascade up to a Learning Objective, the information might not be what you need for the course, no matter how interesting it may be. If you are unsure of the connection between content and a Learning Objective, ask the SME which Learning Objective the information shared relates to.
When someone takes the time to help and share information, it is a generous act. Be generous in return with your gratitude for their generosity. Doing so will make the experience more enjoyable for all.
Try It & Share It!
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Until we meet again, take care!