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8-Step Process for Working with Subject-Matter Experts

Posted by Beth Brashear on 10/3/16 8:00 AM
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Working with subject-matter experts (SMEs) is an integral component of instructional design. As designers, we may not always have the knowledge or expertise associated with the content of a course we are designing, so we need to partner with someone who does. However, sometimes there may be challenges when partnering with SMEs. 


One of the major challenges I’ve had is coordinating schedules with the SMEs and making the most of the time we were given. How do we overcome these challenges? With a clear and logical process like the one below:

1.  Selecting Subject-Matter Experts:

  • Choose an odd number of experts. This will come in handy if there is ever a disagreement.
  • Select people who are currently doing the job effectively and who are true job performance experts. 

2.  Planning your meeting:
  • Prepare a sample task list and/or task analysis as a reference for your SMEs to use. This will serve as a guide to help them understand the information you are, or are not, seeking. 
  • Prepare a written agenda. This will allow you to streamline your meetings and help with time management. (Time is valuable and we need to make the most of it!) 

3.  During the meeting:
  • Explain the purpose of the meeting and define everyone’s role. Remember, you are the subject-matter expert in the field of training and they are the SMEs in the content you are wanting to design. 
  • Avoid discussing course content until the job has been thoroughly analyzed and recorded. At this stage of the instructional design process we are not building the course but rather analyzing what someone does in their job. Discussing how the content will be presented and applied will only derail you from the true purpose of the meeting. 

4. Following your meeting
  • Send copies of the completed task analysis to all SMEs for a final review. 
  • Thank them for their attendance and input. Again, they have taken time out of their normal jobs to help you, so thanking them helps to build positive relationships for future projects.


SMEs are a vital component of the instructional design cycle and using this process will decrease some of the challenges you may face when working with them. Langevin’s Instructional Design for New Designers workshop gives you all the tools you’ll need to work effectively with any subject-matter expert! Sign up now! 


What are some of the challenges you have faced when working with SMEs? What are your tried-and-true techniques for working with SMEs? I’d love to hear from you! 


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Beth has been a course leader with Langevin since 2015. She currently resides in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. Beth began her training career in 2006 and believes, while training needs to be educational, it also needs to be fun! Outside of the classroom, Beth enjoys spending time with her daughter, reading, playing volleyball, photography, and travelling. She hopes to one day visit India during the Festival of Lights, Mexico for the Day of the Dead Celebration, Rio for the Carnival, and China for the Chinese New Year.

Tags: subject-matter expert

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