When it comes to creating great eLearning, working with the appropriate subject matter experts (SME’s) will make a big difference, not only to the quality of the content and the learning experience but to the success of the project.

SME’s are an invaluable asset, their knowledge and expertise help to bring the content to life, providing context and importantly, relevance to the subject area or topic you want to cover.

So, if you want your eLearning project to run smoothly and for your subject matter experts to hit the ground running, follow our 7 steps on getting the right amount of information from SME’s to ensure your project goals are accomplished.


1. Explain the process

Not all SME’s will be familiar with the eLearning development process. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open when collaborating.

Outline and clearly explain the approach with the subject matter, let them know exactly what is involved, where they fit within the process and what is expected of them.

Also show the SME’s how their input correlates with the project plan, giving them a clear idea of their time commitment and what they are expected to sign off on and at what stage.

2. Be open about their time commitment

As most of the subject matter experts practice their expertise in full-time roles, acting the role of a subject matter in a training capacity is only one of the many tasks that they are juggling in any given day. With that said, SMEs often underestimate how much time is required of them to collaborate, collate and write content.

Even if timelines are outlined in the project plan, they might not realise just how much time it will take them to complete these tasks.

Give them an idea of how long it has taken other SMEs and discuss if they are open to allocating time in their week to work solely on the project.

3. Find out what success looks like

Knowing from the onset what your performance targets or goals are in the subject area and how you expect the eLearning to contribute to meeting these targets is key.

This helps to identify the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to focus on in the eLearning.

4. Agree on a head subject matter expert

When selecting subject matter to work with, or a SME team, you will need to ensure they can competently advise on all the learning objectives of your course.

It is also useful to have an agile team, made up of a small number of members, ensuring they can coordinate their schedules and work together effectively. When working on an eLearning project, we recommend a maximum of 5 SMEs.

If you are working with more than one subject matter expert, it’s also important to appoint a lead SME, who can convene and lead the SME group. This ensures that the inputs provided by the SME team are clear, consistent and aligned to the learning objectives of the course. This is particularly useful if there are several sets of edits from different subject matter experts.

5. Get existing material on the subject

Co-ordinate and ask the SMEs to send any existing materials, training manuals, videos, job aids or anything else useful and relevant on the subject.

These existing materials will be used to understand the subject in advance of any meetings. It helps to ask questions relevant to the subject area and identify on content which can be reused in the eLearning.

6. Challenge them to provide content which meets your goals

One of the biggest challenges is moving away from including all the content on the subject area and only providing content that meets the overall goal.

Your SME’s will know what is relevant for the eLearning programme. Collaborate with them to help develop learning content that will engage the learner into the topic and create a stimulating learning activity that will focus on making the information presented meaningful and appropriate.

7. Ask them to author content

Before you begin content curation, share the outline of your eLearning programme with your SME’s. This will enable them to provide initial feedback before diving in and will save time to make any unnecessary edits later in the development process.

Subject matter experts aren’t expected to have the writing skills of a prized author, however, when working on an eLearning programme, ask your SME’s to draft some content that can be transformed into an engaging learning experience.

For example, if you want to immerse learners in real-world scenarios, ask your SME’s to write some potential options that learners may be faced with and the consequences of taking different actions. As experts in their field, they will know best what is realistic and relevant.

 Using and applying these 7 tips to effectively engage with your SME’s will not only help in the success of the eLearning programme but will also increase the likelihood of working with them again in the future.

Are there any other tips that you’d recommend when working with SME’s?

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