By Dan Keckan published August 28, 2012

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are vital to the success of any learning experience. SMEs provide a keen sense of the way employees work and the knowledge and skills employees must have in order to do the work.

It is the responsibility of the Instructional Designer (ID) to provide the information in a format that promotes learning and retention. It is the responsibility of the SME to ensure the message is clear and correct.  The challenge comes in keeping the SME within the boundaries of the budget and timeline.

1.  Amount of Content

Instructional Designers for the most part live by the 80/20 rule. Most of the time learners only need to know 80% of the new information; the other 20% can be learned later. Convincing some SMEs of this takes a bit of negotiation. If the ID has a plan for the other 20% i.e., job aids, hands-on training, virtual training, etc. – SMEs will be much more receptive of ‘more is less.’

2.  Aligned with Business Objectives

In order to be effective, all training should align with business objectives. Sometimes SMEs want to include ‘everything they know.’ An ID can ask questions to keep them aligned with business objectives: How does this process support the new system? Is this policy different from the ‘XYZ’ policy we included in Lesson 2? Is this information required for “Day 1 Readiness?”

3.  Aligned with Audiences

SMEs oftentimes become so ingrained in the specifics; they forget who the learners are. It’s the ID’s responsibility to ensure the SME is clear about what new hires need to learn versus existing employees. Often SMEs think this is a great time to ‘remind’ existing employees of processes and procedures they ‘forget or skip.’ The ID needs to ensure that the information stays aligned with the audience by reminding the SME the purpose of the training is to teach what is new or what has changed….ONLY.

4.  Design and Development Timeline

The ID and SME are responsible for meeting deadlines/target dates in the project timeline as they work together.

As an ID reviews information, often questions surface as gaps in information become evident. If the SME knows the answer, the gap is closed quickly and accurately.

Gathering information and getting answers are two of the primary reasons the deadline can be compromised. Educating the SME at the START of the project on the importance of being organized and prepared can pay off in time saved.

Each of these suggestions will help you keep your SME on track, whether you are working on developing custom eLearning, instructor-led training, performance support or any other learning experience.  And, if you were able to read between the lines…COLLABORATION is the most important tip to keeping your SME on track.

Cinecraft designs and develops engaging custom eLearning and video solutions for Fortune 1000 clients throughout the United States. Cinecraft has been corporate storytellers for over 70 years.

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