An Instructional Designer’s Survival Guide: Ep01 – The SME Phobia

An Instructional Designer’s Survival Guide: Ep01 - The SME Phobia

An Instructional Designer’s Survival Guide: Ep01 - The SME Phobia

Welcome to today’s blog post. Instructional design is a unique profession that requires a variety of skills to achieve mastery. I still remember my initial days as instructional designer, not able to figure out the why and what of the things I was made to do. People used to think I do content writing, and back then, I didn’t have many points on my side to contradict this opinion. It is with time and experience that I studied the science behind Instructional Design. In this blog post series, I would like to share my views and experiences that may be helpful to the new wanderers of this massive domain. In this first post, I would like to discuss about one of the biggest fears novice Instructional Designers face, the fear of Subject Matter Expert. Here’s a simple ABC approach to get rid of the SME phobia and make your life easier.

A: Understand the Role of an SME

Understand the Role of an SME

It is very important that you clearly understand the role of an SME in eLearning. If we observe closely, SME is another stakeholder working in parallel with Instructional Designers to develop better learning. We all have one favorite lecturer/professor during our school/college days. What made him special? Is it only the deep subject knowledge that differentiates him from others? In most cases, it is the teaching methodology that separates one trainer from another. Some trainers go an extra mile trying to find out more interesting and effective ways to teach the content and that grabs our attention and enables better understanding. We instructional designers are not trained particularly on any subject and often work on developing eLearning courses on a variety of content that we are not aware of. The subject- matter expert’s role here is to help us understand the content. SME is a knowledge hub looking for best ways to transfer it, and we are the people who lay the path for it.

B: Get to Know Your SME

Get to Know Your SME

It is essential for an ID to build a good bonding with the SME. Knowing your SME upfront helps you in all stages of development. For example, if your SME is new to eLearning, it is your responsibility to take him through the basics of eLearning before proceeding to avoid any disturbances later on. This is really important. There are several instances where an SME approves the storyboard and then makes a lot of changes once the course is developed. Why does this happen? In most cases, the SME is not clearly aware of the storyboard and the things to review in it and hence expects a huge variation in the course from the storyboard which doesn’t happen. The storyboard is the screenplay document for the course, which stands as a final documentation for visualization of the output. This should be properly conveyed to the SME before taking any approvals. Knowing your SME and keeping him informed at every step of the process enables smooth completion of the eLearning course development.

C: Ask the Right/Wrong Questions

Ask the Right/Wrong Questions

During content analysis, there will be many instances where we are in doubt. But, when it comes to listing the queries to ask the SME, very few questions pop out. Why is it? This is because we tend to strike out many questions that cross our mind considering them silly. This assumption will make us pay the price later. The subject-matter expert doesn’t expect you to have deep subject knowledge or understand every element of the content. He is aware that you are acting as a consultant to suggest the best possible way to present his content to the learner. Therefore, there is no such thing as silly/wrong questions. The SME will not be judging you on the questions that you ask, but will only help you understand the content better so that you can design the eLearning course more effectively.

Finally, we should remember that in eLearning, SME is the person that is familiar with “What is to be taught”, whereas Instructional Designer is the person that defines “How it is to be taught”. Hence, mutual exchange of expertise and knowledge will benefit the Instructional Designer and the SME in achieving their common goal, which is creating better learning.

Is your SME unpredictable?

Is he unclear about what he wants? Have you thought if the problem lies with you?

What are the problems you have faced with an SME?

Please share your experiences in the comments section below. Happy reading!!

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