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Sep 2017

What it takes to be a subject matter expert

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Shaping the future of learning

A subject matter expert, is just that – an expert on a particular subject. An SME knows the content of a course inside-out and therefore is the best person to handle content queries, and check deliverables for accuracy, relevance, and credibility. At Kineo, we’ve worked with hundreds of SMEs over the years and we’ve got a few tips on what it takes.

What takes an SME from good to great

The value of an SME should not be underplayed; a great SME can be the difference between a rocky project and a smooth one, and the difference between a course with good content and a course with great content.

So, what makes for a great SME? Here are our top five tips:

  1. The experts

    Learning designers are highly skilled at absorbing information and internalising content quickly. However, they are not usually experts in the subject matter. So, SMEs taking time to explain things clearly is key. And being patient – they’ll usually get asked lots of questions!
  2. Projects aren’t just for Christmas

    Over the life of a project, SMEs are required to take part in a multitude of activities: explaining content, reviewing scripts, giving feedback on built courses. Whether the life of a project is four weeks or four months, SMEs need to be on board throughout.
  3. Keep us in the loop

    We work closely with SMEs and client Project Managers to develop a detailed schedule and identify dates when SMEs are available to review and sign off key deliverables. No matter who you are working with to develop a course, experience shows that the schedule will change several times due to unforeseen circumstances. The best thing an SME can do is keep those involved with the project informed of their time and to bear with the team when the schedule flexes.
  4. Try to contain the role

    There’s a tendency for SMEs to feel they need to take on too much responsibility. They should own all content issues, but development of the complete solution is the responsibility of the Project Managers. Similarly, if there’s a part of the content that someone else in their business knows better, SMEs can introduce them into the project team.
  5. Feedback

    At the end of a project, everyone involved should discuss how the project went. Discuss how efficiency could be improved, what worked and what didn’t, and explore new solutions to key challenges. Once a project has been signed off, we reach out to SMEs to hear what they thought about the project and the process, and the insight we receive from them is invaluable. At this stage, the more feedback the better.

What do you think? Have you had any interesting experiences with SMEs? Have you been an SME yourself?



Shaping the future of learning

Kineo helps the world’s leading businesses improve performance through learning and technology. We’re proud of our reputation for being flexible and innovative, and of our award-winning work with clients across the world.

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