Relationships of IDs & SMEs

Subject Matter Experts, also known as SMEs, have the knowledge and Instructional Designers have the “know-how”, put the two together and you a recipe for success.

Attempting to “do justice” to someone else’s ideas can be a daunting task if an instructional designer is not careful in their preparation and cultivation of the relationship with their SME. It is because of the SME’s in-depth knowledge of a specific content area that we collaborate with them and embrace their ideas and wisdom. Just like IDs, SMEs have a pivotal role in any learning initiative (ACS, 2008).

Unfortunately, when it comes to working with SMEs, there may be some hurdles or unspoken concerns to overcome (Yancey, 1995). For example, SMEs might be concerned as to why their company is hiring an outside source to create or deliver the instructional strategies; or even frustration at having to share their knowledge with an outsider. An ID should always respect and validate the concerns of the SME and seek to build a simpatico relationship to foster collaboration.

Often times SMEs are experts that are called upon by many other entities; therefore, it will be important to work efficiently and effectively with them, so no one’s time is wasted.

Preparation, respect, and collaboration are the keys to success when IDs and SMEs work together!


Affiliated Computer Services (2008). Working with Subject Matter Experts, An ACS: Expertise in Action (White Paper): ACS Learning Services

Yancey, C. (1995) The ABCs of Working with SMEs. P&I 35(1).

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