Subject Matter Experts (or SMEs) are a key part of any learning design project. To be honest, without the SME we are just putting out words and pretty images without any context or real meaning. SMEs provide us with the content, context, and real-life application that our target audience needs. Unfortunately, I often encounter projects where the SMEs are thought of as simply an upfront resource and not a long-term member of the development team. This is a very unfortunate oversight for many reasons.
SMEs Are Closer to the Issue – Learning design projects are usually started when an issue or a change is identified. Nobody knows more about these issues and changes than the person that does the work. Most often, the SME will know about key pieces of information long before the designer or learning design project manager.
SMEs Often Collect Artifacts – In my experience, SMEs tend to collect documents, images, notes, and real-life examples that are incredibly useful in creating engaging and impactful learning content. If they are part of the development team, it is easier to identify these treasure troves of resources.
SMEs Are Great Advocates – A learning need is often the result of change; and we all know that people often struggle with change. SMEs, unlike management or leadership, often have a more direct line of influence with the target audience. SMEs that are part of the team are more likely to champion the change and encourage the target audience to be early adopters of the change.
SMEs Have Upward Influence – As a learning consultant, one of my responsibilities is identifying and addressing concerns about learning design decisions. Unfortunately, I may not have direct line of influence to decision makers. SMEs on the other hand usually have direct contact with those that have influence. SMEs can help you contact decision makers or be a conduit for delivering those concerns.
So, next time you are creating a learning design team for a project, make sure that you have your SME on board for the duration, engage with them often to upgrade relevance, and encourage them to advocate for the change and influence implementation. They can be a really great development team member!