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A guide for SMEs and IDs: 6 steps to enhancing eLearning

To create captivating, outcome-changing eLearning courses, subject matter experts (SMEs) and Instructional Designers (IDs) need one thing - each other. SMEs, whether product managers, compliance directors or sales executives, know the facts but may not know how to teach them. It's up to an ID to transform those facts into meaningful learning content. For IDs to organize information in a way that's compelling and easy to learn, they must rely on the expertise of SMEs. SMEs, for their part, must trust IDs' learning know-how.

An eLearning solution is an effective outcome of IDs' teaching strategies and SMEs' knowledge. So, whether you're an ID or SME, communication is key. Below are recommended guidelines for achieving smooth collaboration and the best possible eLearning outcomes:

1. Read any and all content
IDs must be thorough in reviewing an SME's source content, be it two or 200 pages. By reading it before beginning core work, an ID gains the SME's respect, increases credibility, and saves time by preventing the SME from having to walk the ID through basic information.

SMEs also need to review in advance any documentation provided by the ID, which typically includes a process outline to make each step easier for both parties.

2. Establish the course's purpose
SMEs and IDs must work together to define the course's goals (i.e. performance objectives, business outcomes, etc.) by combining their knowledge of the subject and best learning practices. As SMEs and IDs begin this conversation, they may want to ask:

  • What is the point of this course?
  • What would happen if we didn't create the course?
  • What is one result we want this course to produce?
  • How will this course affect the day-to-day operations of employees?
  • How can we use this course to enhance our brand?

3. Ask the right questions
After SMEs and IDs determine the goal(s) of the course, they must identify the mechanics necessary to reach them. What types of instruction should be employed given the course's content, the competency of learners and the environment in which learning will take place? How should the course be set up, taught and assessed? Together, SMEs and IDs can begin to find answers. To get started, an ID might ask:

  • What are the key features that learners must learn?
  • How would you describe the course to a 14-year-old?
  • Could you walk me through the basic process from beginning to end?
  • Is this step optional, or is it required to reach a goal?
  • What's a common mistake people make at this point?
  • What information or support do people have? Do they use it? If not, why not?

4. Simplify
To reduce content clutter and maximize retention, eLearning solutions must incorporate only the most vital information. An average learner cannot hope to grasp complicated concepts that SMEs have mastered over years. SMEs and IDs must continually ask themselves: Is this information absolutely necessary?

If difficult-to-understand concepts can't be omitted, they must be presented slowly and with plenty of examples. If an ID and SME can't agree whether information should stay or go, they can examine what situations might arise if said information were removed. When in doubt, trust the ID, whose job is to expose critical information and ensure that only information vital to achieving the desired learning outcome is included. Additional information, which may be nice-to-know rather than need-to-know, can always be added in a resources/job-aids section.

5. Work well together
SMEs and IDs, like any other individuals, have preferred working styles and approaches, especially in regard to:

  • Communication (email, phone, in-person meetings, etc.)
  • Approach to the course
  • Providing input
  • Reviewing deliverables and providing feedback
  • Responsiveness

These preferences can cause tension if not properly addressed. To yield the best results, IDs and SMEs must agree on an approach to communication, goals and deliverables that pleases both parties and makes each feel comfortable.

When reviewing designs, storyboards, videos and other aspects of the course's development, SMEs should be constructive, rather than overly critical. IDs should remember to take critiques professionally rather than personally and both parties should always keep the course's goals in mind.

6. Practice good time management
SMEs and IDs must respect each other's time. SMEs are generally involved in multiple projects simultaneously. Although there may be many priorities competing for their time, SMEs must be mindful to allow enough time for design, storyboard, video and assessment reviews.

IDs need to make the most of the time they have with SMEs by using strategies such as quick debriefs, input forms and planning working sessions with quick review turnarounds. IDs also need to practice patience and be sure to openly communicate their needs. Frequent email or phone contact can prevent issues or project hold-ups from arising.

Enjoy the results
An effective eLearning course should be a source of pride for SMEs and IDs. SMEs and IDs put considerable time, planning and hard work into course creation, clarification and innovation. Their work proves the power of "we." 

Corporate Learning & Performance

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