October 30th, 2018
    Digital Learning, Learning Management

The Art of Working with a Subject Matter Expert

cgaborit 3 min read
subject matter expert (SME)

For newbies in the eLearning sphere, an SME (Subject Matter Expert) is a valuable member of any learning design team. They are the expert in the field or topic as it relates to the course that is going to be developed. In practice, an SME provides content as well as vital insights regarding what the audience needs to learn about the given topic.

In this article, I will share a few ideas that might help you build a healthy and productive relationship with your SMEs, whether they are engineers, health care professionals, professors, or salespeople.  If you make sure you are armed with the right skills for working together successfully, you can make a complicated process run faster and smoother than ever before. And let’s face it, everyone wants everything delivered yesterday.

Relationships with all stakeholders throughout the process are undoubtedly the key to success.

“Some of the most successful eLearning modules we have worked on are when the SME has been heavily involved in the project kick off.”

The role of the SME is often not given enough importance. Their job is to work with the design team to convey the content that is required for inclusion into the module, and it pays to keep them actively involved throughout the whole development process.

healthy relationship

Build a healthy and productive relationship with your SMEs, whether they are engineers, health care professionals, professors, or salespeople.

Here are a few ideas I have to keep the process running smoothly:

  1. Establish expectations of the SME upfront so they can be prepared. Nobody likes surprises so the more you foster a relationship based on communication and trust, the more likely you are to get a better result
  2. Use an online project management tool because it’s excellent for tracking project progress. Shout out if you would like some tips based upon our experience.
  3. Develop a project plan with dates for online content reviews (this helps keep everyone accountable)
  4. Decide and agree upon deadlines and deliverables and make sure you consult all stakeholders in this process
  5. Schedule time in people’s calendars. Sometimes you may have to work with a group of SMEs’, so in this case, it is essential to schedule regular meetings (with plenty of notice) so that all participants are more likely to be available
  6. Hold regular project meetings between the SME and developers even if they are only over the phone
  7. Set an agenda and prepare your questions before every meeting
  8. Take notes and if everybody is willing to record your conversations, to avoid any misunderstandings

To build an engaging module and achieve the set learning objectives, it’s crucial that everybody including the SME keep the audience in mind. This helps you identify the content that is imperative, and you are then better able to choose appropriate teaching strategies.

As a project team (Instructional Designers/Developers), we need to respect the SME’s time as they often are juggling all their other job priorities. Be prepared, ask relevant and document everything. I have sometimes found that although the questions may not be directly related to their knowledge, they can often refer you to other experts who can.


Open and clear communication between SME Vicky and Project Team Lead Laura is paramount to development success.

One last tip is to develop your active listening skills. This will help you in all areas of your life (not just project related) so pay attention and focus on improving this incredible talent.

Written by Simone Tsigolis:  Simone is an Operations Manager at The Learning Factor with more than 10 years of experience. She loves personal development and Oprah’s Supersoul Podcasts. After work, Simone likes to smash out an OrangeTheory workout.

At The Learning Factor, we simplify the business of learning. We craft exceptional training solutions that solve critical business challenges across all touchpoints, screens, and devices. If you have like what you have read, we would love to hear from you. You can chat with us LIVE between 8.30am-5pm Monday to Friday using the yellow chat button on this screen. Also be sure to follow us on LinkedIn.

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