3 ways SME input can elevate your learning content

In the world of eLearning content authoring, your courses will always benefit from an extra injection of relevance, specialist knowledge, and experience-driven context.

It may sometimes seem like these qualities are too difficult (or expensive!) to bring to the table—but what if they’re already present within your organization? Your workforce’s subject matter experts (SMEs) are fully capable of augmenting your learning content with expertise drawn from a career’s worth of practice.

An easy-to-use authoring tool can unlock this wealth of expert knowledge that would otherwise remain uncommunicated. In some industries or professions, knowledge silos can be encountered on a weekly basis—and a good authoring tool can be the difference between siloed expertise and the open exchange of potentially critical information.

Of course, when you’re creating eLearning content, it’s not just about sharing information: it’s about ensuring the information you share is engaging, relevant, and useful. Luckily, your SMEs can help in that department too. Intrigued? Read on.

What is a subject matter expert, anyway?

As the handy acronym implies, an SME is an individual with an extensive understanding of their field or profession. They have an advanced grasp of potentially complex topics, and they use their knowledge in a day-to-day sense throughout their professional lives.

From an L&D perspective, SMEs aren’t just knowledgeable workers operating in some distant part of your organization—they’re a valuable learning resource. Whether it’s to check learning courses for accuracy, relevance, and up-to-date details or to produce content of their own, an SME’s contribution can be the deciding factor that separates the good content from the great.

When it’s done well, SME-L&D collaboration can take some of the workload-related pressure away from your instructional designers and allow you to produce high volumes of quality content even when budgets are stretched.

Find out more about what SMEs can bring to your content design process:

Why you should turn your SMEs into content reviewers (and how to simplify the review process)

Here’s how SMEs can invigorate eLearning materials

Common sense suggests that having access to a full-fledged expert in a given learning topic is likely to elevate your content. However: to maximize the value of your SMEs’ contributions, you need a clear picture of the various ways they can help your instructional designers.

Though it’s not exhaustive, the following list will give you a firm sense of the pedagogical benefits that SMEs bring to the table, allowing you to adjust your requests for input accordingly.

1) Infuse courses with relevant, up-to-date knowledge

Expertise isn’t necessarily a static phenomenon. Whatever the industry, field, or topic your learning materials cover, it’s likely that at least some of your content will need to adhere to the latest thinking—and your experts are in a prime position to make sure that happens.

Take compliance, for example. It’s a requirement that all employers ensure their people are adhering to rules and regulations of one kind or another, and those rules are generally subject to change. Compliance with cyber security best practices, for instance, is necessary for any role that involves internet access, with one technology risk expert characterizing its constant changes as “a never-ending race”.

Instructional designers might not have the resources to keep on top of the latest developments impacting every course they create. Your SMEs, by contrast, live and breathe their subjects. Your legal experts will have their fingers firmly on the pulse of regulatory trends, while your IT team will have their ears to the ground for any rumblings in the world of online security.

As such, ensuring your SMEs are included in content authoring is a great way to make sure your training doesn’t hinge on guidance introduced in the dim and distant past.

Help your SMEs create first-class content with our top tips:

5 easy ways to create engaging eLearning

2) Deliver content that works for learners of all levels

When we talk about SMEs in the context of learning, there’s a real emphasis on the “E”. As experts, your SMEs can cater to learners with hugely varying levels of prior knowledge and understanding, from outright novices to more advanced individuals.

Academic literature suggests that differentiated instruction—the process of tailoring learning to the needs of learners—can result in higher student performance rates, and your SMEs are well suited to this teaching strategy. SMEs can be called on to use their knowledge and proficiencies to simplify complex subject matter or inject an extra layer of nuance into key topics, depending on the audience involved. 

3) Reinforce learning materials with experience-driven context

Your organization’s SMEs aren’t just experts in a theoretical sense—their expertise is drawn from years of experience and bolstered by day-to-day professional activities.

As such, SMEs are well-equipped to infuse your learning content with one of the most important ingredients for good instructional design: context. As researchers from the University of Queensland have noted, context-based materials allow learners to understand the practical relevance of the knowledge and skills they’re taught, which has positive connotations for motivation and engagement.

By involving SMEs in your instructional design process, you’ll be able to inject examples, experiences, and case studies into your content, bridging the gap between your learning exercises and their real-world applications.

Overcoming the barriers between your SMEs and top-notch content

It’s one thing to recognize the benefits of including SMEs in the instructional design process—but making it happen is another thing altogether! You don’t become an expert in your field without putting in the work or rising through the ranks, so it’s likely that your SMEs are a little busy.

Plus, being an expert in one field doesn’t automatically mean that your SMEs are comfortable with instructional design: it’s a discipline all of its own, and sometimes an SME’s lack of knowledge in this arena can be as much a hindrance as a help. After all, no L&D department prefers to receive SME input in a non-eLearning format (like a slide deck) when it could be added directly into their authoring tool.

When you’ve got a good authoring tool, these barriers are far from insurmountable. The right tool will strike a balance between cloud-based simplicity and sophistication, ensuring that your SMEs are able to quickly grasp the essentials and use them to craft content that any instructional designer would be proud to put their name to.

Elearning is for everyone. Make sure your courses are as inclusive as possible:

Achieving accessibility: 5 tips for truly accessible training

About the author: Simon Waldram

As Product Manager at Gomo, I’m passionate about delivering value at every interaction and to increase sustainable proven value for our customers and business.

I have extensive experience of working within both the commercial and educational sectors, and approach all projects with a strategic mind.

This combination of education and commercial experience has enabled me to stay at the leading edge of emerging technologies to ensure that customers are provided with a framework for success.

Want to transform your SMEs into course authoring whiz-kids?