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Guest blog post by Liz Sheffield. Liz enjoys contributing to an organization’s success by creating powerful learning experiences and working with a variety of SMEs in order to do so.

Chances are if you’re creating an eLearning course, you’ll be working with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). These SMEs will help you by providing content as well as invaluable insights regarding what learners need to learn about the given topic.

Be warned: not all SMEs are created equal — some may be excited about the eLearning you’re creating. Others may view their SME status as just another item to add to an already overflowing list of things to do. Regardless of their attitude, your approach to working with SMEs makes all the difference.

Keep these five tips in mind to increase your chances for a successful working relationship with any SME:

1. Work with More than One SME

If possible, work with at least two SMEs when you’re developing an eLearning course. This helps ensure you’re receiving feedback and insight based on multiple perspectives, not just the opinion of one person.

2. Start with a Conversation

Even if your development timeline is tight, and even if the SMEs schedules are booked for the next six months, you have to start a conversation. Whether it’s 15 minutes or an hour, this conversation will help you set the tone and establish a working relationship with your SMEs. This is a good time to talk about your development process and how the SMEs will participate — and play an important role — within that process.

3. Share Your Outline

Once you have an outline for your course content, share it with the SMEs. It’s better to get constructive feedback from an SME before you’re knee-deep in content creation. This is also when having more than one SME really helps. If you feel like feedback from one SME is off the mark, you can confirm and verify with other SMEs to be sure you’re on the right track.

4. Collaborate on Content

During the development phase, as appropriate, collaborate with SMEs on content. Share the overall look and feel of the course with them. Ask for input or assistance with images and graphics. Let SMEs be your beta learners to gather feedback before you publish the eLearning content. If you keep SMEs informed throughout your development process, they can be some of your best reviewers because they understand the content and approach it just as well as you do. By collaborating with SMEs, you’re creating advocates who feel a sense of ownership. When the course launches, advocating SMEs will validate the value of your course delivery with your learners.

5. Celebrate Final Success

Face it, without the help of your SMEs, you might not have been able to produce this amazing eLearning course. Take the time to celebrate their contributions and your mutual success by sending an email, dropping off a handwritten note, or somehow publically recognizing SMEs for their contributions. If you’re working with a project manager, ask him or her for suggestions for when you can celebrate and thank your SMEs for their contributions.

Keep these five tips in mind and you’ll be able to call on these SMEs for help in the future. And when you do, it will be that much easier to partner on another successful piece of eLearning content!

Anything you’d like to add about working with SMEs? Share your comments below.


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