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The SME-eLearning Relationship: How to make it work

Updated: May 1, 2023

Are you a Subject Matter Expert (SME) who’s worked with an internal or external eLearning team? We bet you found it strange and, if it was your first foray into this world, taxing even!

You are the expert, the powerhouse of information and knowledge. And now this team has been brought in who demands your time. You give them the content; they ask you for clarifications. You give them details; they ask you to review documents. You provide your input; they slam you with storyboards. You look over the storyboards, ask them where the remaining content is; they respond with jargon and stuff about making it learner-centric, focussed learning.


Your roles are equally important; you provide the content, and they engineer it to create effective, meaningful learning experiences.

From someone who's worked with SMEs for over two decades, here are some tips on making this relationship work.

As a SME, you are a key member of the larger eLearning team. You are integral in the coordination and collaboration with Instructional Designers and stakeholders. Let's demystify the process and the roles and expectations to build solid teamwork to get you a good learning solution!

Language Please!

They speak a different language. You've probably have had more acronyms thrown at you in that first kick-off meeting than you have encountered during your research! ADDIE, SAM, SAMR... Seriously, have you ever had to decipher what an eLearning developer is saying? Just when you think you have understood the models they are referring to, they come up with more: LMS, SCORM, AICC, CSS, xAPI. It's like they have their own secret code!

Good eLearning vendors will not only patiently demystify these terms, they will also explain their relevance and role. During project kick-off, they will explain your contribution during the entire project lifecycle. They should:

  • Establish expectations

  • Provide a schedule with dates and expected turnaround times for:

    • providing information and responding to queries

    • content reviews

  • Establish communication protocols

  • Provide a signoff document for your approval of the eLearning course content

Content Coverage

With your vast knowledge and experience, your content is sacred to you. We understand. If the eLearning team excludes or layers bits of information, there's a good reason.

That PPT or that whitepaper that took you days, nay weeks to finish, the eLearning team has reduced to six modules of 15 minutes each. Now before you see red, take a breath. You have invested time in existing presentation material, why is the team changing colours, images, fonts and formatting? And why are they insistent on excluding half of that wonderful content you laboured over?!

Simply put, learners need to know what's essential to do tasks effectively and efficiently. There is "must know" information and then there's "good to know". Work with your eLearning team to identify the learning objectives. Is it knowledge you are scaling or performance that you need to impact? That determines what content is used.

They're obsessed with interactivity!

As the SME, you might be happy with a linear PowerPoint presentation. But not the eLearning team! No, they want to turn everything into a game, with quizzes, interactive scenarios, and branching paths.

Ask them to show you samples of eLearning courses to get an idea of what they mean by immersive and interactive. Check how they intend for learners to "interact" with the content.

They're always testing!

They'll test their modules on every device, every browser, and every screen resolution known to man, just to make sure everything works perfectly. They'll even test things that seem totally unnecessary, like whether the module works in Internet Explorer 6 (spoiler alert: it probably doesn't). But hey, at least you know they're dedicated to making sure your content is accessible to everyone!

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