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Tim Cliffe - Blog

Your First Meeting With Your Subject Matter Expert

01 Target Audience

(01.1) Anyone involved in e-Learning, social learning commissioning, design, and related roles.

02 Executive Summary

(02.1) Your Subject Matter Expert (SME), and your relationship with them, is crucial to the timely development of learning resources.


(02.2) Effective initial planning, and ensuring mutual understanding of what is involved, will ensure the most effective outcome.

03 Structure of This Article

  • (04) Introduction
  • (05) Your First Meeting

04 Introduction

(04.1) The SME is the life-blood of Instructional Designers. SMEs provide the knowledge and experience to enable the Instructional Designer (ID) to create learning resources. The SME is, therefore, of great importance, requiring the support, and consideration, of the ID.


(04.2) This blog summarises my experience in working with SMEs, and the important lessons they have taught.


(04.3) This blog assumes the SME is not directly involved in the process of Instructional Design.

05 Your First Meeting

Image of two people holding a meeting.


(05.1) It is likely you, as the ID, have been given the contact details of your SME, and have been charged with establishing contact, to get the 'learning resource' creation process started.


(05.2) The three most important points to remember are:
  1. Assume nothing;
  2. Assume nothing;
  3. Assume nothing.
(05.3) Your first meeting is your opportunity to plan, prepare, and make a good impression on your SME.


(05.4) An ID's instinct is to get-on with the content, but this is not the best starting position. As any ID knows, before you know it, time has passed, the meeting is hurriedly drawn to a close and the SME must leave. Important things are left undone, that will come back to bite.

05.1 Contact Details

Image of types of communication.


(05.1.1) First, make sure you note any circumstances under which the SME does not wish to be contacted, and most importantly, honour them.


(05.1.2) Get as many contact details as possible/appropriate:
  • Mobile (Cell) number – Work and personal;
  • Landline number – Work and personal;
    • Remember to have a DIRECT work number (a generic switchboard number can be an obstacle;
  • E-mail address – Work and personal;
  • Connect via professional media such as LinkedIn, if appropriate;
  • Social Media, Skype (work and personal), if appropriate.
(5.1.3) There will come a time, almost certainly, during your relationship with your SME, when you will be glad you took the time to ensure you can contact them.


(5.1.4) Of course, remember to give your SME your contact details, and any restrictions.

05.2 Availability

Image of a clock.


(05.2.1) You may have been told the SME is available for the duration of the 'learning resource' creation process. Remember, assume nothing.


(05.2.2) Go through your diary with the SME and note any dates the SME will not be available.


(05.2.3) Ensure you ask if the SME has holiday booked, or if they will be away from their normal place of work for things such as conferences, or voluntary work, as these can be easily over-looked.


(05.2.4) Remember to identify measures to preclude any identified obstacles to the task at hand.


(05.2.5) Make sure you pass this information to your project manager, so they can plan effectively. If necessary, ensure the SME's 'project representative' receives the information, so all knowledge/expectations are shared.


(05.2.6) You may have been told, the SME has received a full brief on what is required. Remember, assume nothing.

05.3 Process Aide-mémoire

Image of a finger with a tied knot.


(05.3.1) Produce a brief document outlining the key processes for creating the 'learning resource', and the other resources you will use together. For example:
  • Notes on developing First Drafts, the inclusion of media, copyright compliance, first review, successive review(s), QA process, final sign-off, publication, live-testing;
  • Notes on how to present the first draft content. For example, using plain text files rather than PowerPoint. With PowerPoint, SMEs can waste valuable time making the content 'look pretty' and laying-out;
  • Notes on developing questions, scenarios, simulations. I suggest my SMEs make notes of questions they want to ask as they progress with developing the content, but to insert them after they have finished the first draft content. That way, questions are less likely to need re-writing later, and the SME can check the questioning makes sense, once they have finished their edits to the first draft;
  • Media production - Ensure your SME understands the time constraints relating to production. For example, your graphics team may be off-shore, limitations for producing animations, and video;
  • Social media - Explain how Social Media is integrated into the learning resource (if available);
  • Information about on-line resources, such as 'sand-pits' for review purposes, location of social media elements;
  • The SME may need to be aware of certain authoring standards, which may include accessibility, or translation.

05.4 Your Supportive Role

Image of a two characters shaking hands.


(05.4.1) You cannot be certain the SME has been told about your Supportive Role, unless you make it clear. remember, assume nothing.


(05.4.2) You should ensure your SME knows you are available to discuss any issues, no matter how small they may appear. Make it clear when you may be contacted, and any planned commitments you may have when you cannot be reached.


(05.4.3) Remember - If you make a commitment to do something by a given date, do it.


(05.4.4) If something unforeseen happens to prevent you meeting your commitment, inform your SME as soon as possible, or arrange for someone to do it for you, and give a new date for fulfilling your commitment, if possible.


(05.4.5) Remember, your primary goals, for your SME, are to be supportive, available, and reliable. Your SME must quickly learn to trust you.

Use of this Article

Any part, or all, of this article may be linked-to or copied for non-commercial purposes. Any linked or copied content to include the following...


Your First Meeting With Your Subject Matter Expert by Tim Cliffe © 1997-2020.


Where use will be for commercial purposes, seek authorisation, including details of proposed use, via the Contact page.


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