Project ManagmentWorking with the SME

How to Work with Subject Matter Experts on Manufacturing E-learning Courses

A happy SME is a productive SME

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are integral to the successful development of an e-learning course. In the manufacturing world, SMEs are busy, in-demand people working in product development, engineering, process control or other key areas. They typically don’t have much extra time for a “non-core” activity such as development of training materials nor do they have the skill set.

Following are some real-world tips on how to effectively work with SMEs and in the end, make the process a successful, worthwhile experience for all.

Do background homework so you’re familiar with the training topic and your SMEs work.  Come prepared to your first meeting so you can have a meaningful conversation. Being familiar with the SMEs work will help start the relationship off on the right note.

Provide them with context and background information – Your SMEs will be more productive and provide better targeted content if you provide them some guidelines and context, such as:

  • How long is the course?
  • What are the goals of the course?
  • Who is the audience?
  • What skills do the learners already possess?

Show them an example of a good e-learning course. Seeing an example of a good course that you have developed will help them to focus on proper amount of content, writing style, course flow and learning methodologies used.

Clearly define their role and the expected time commitment and deadlines. Providing content or a course is most likely not a priority item for your expert. They still have to perform their primary tasks. Let them know what is expected so they can plan accordingly.

Invite them to develop content in the way that works best for them. People like to communicate in different ways through a variety of tools. Be flexible and allow the expert to communicate in the manner that works best for them and they will be more agreeable with assisting in the project.

Provide them with guidance on how to develop the content:

  • Provide them with the goal
  • Break the goal into sub-goals or objectives
  • Tell them approximately how many sentences to write for each objective
  • Ask them to provide or describe any visuals that may enhance the learning

Invite them to be a member of the team, not just a resource. They may have good suggestions for animations, storyboarding, knowledge checks, job aids or other additional materials. And they will probably appreciate being a valued member of the team. Don’t make this mandatory though, as some experts just don’t have the time.

Direct them to focus on the actions the learner should be able to do. In manufacturing training, the end goal is usually performance of a skill or process. Focusing on the actions rather than context and background information will make the training more concise and relevant to the learner.

And…Thank them! Contributing to the e-learning project is probably not a main priority of theirs. Let them feel recognized and valued and they may be willing to assist in e-learning projects in the future.

Remember, SMEs are experts on the content, but not necessarily instructional design. Ultimately the instructional designer should be the one editing the content and deciding on best methodologies for use in the training course.

Ron Trilling
Author of Learning Lines | Founder and Partner, at Media Dynamics
Ron is a great source of information when it comes to eLearning. He has a background in instructional design and has worked with many companies to help develop their eLearning content and courses.
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