7 Tips For Getting Off To A Great Start With Your Subject Matter Expert

Summary: As the famous blue jean business mogul, Levi Strauss, once said: "An expert knows all the answers - if you ask the right questions". A Subject Matter Expert is a key member of your eLearning team, but only if you know how to get off to a great start and make the most of your collaboration. In this article, I'll share 7 tips that can put you on the path to a winning eLearning partnership with your Subject Matter Expert (SME).

Make A Great Start With Your Subject Matter Expert

As the saying goes "this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship", but only if you can build a solid foundation from day one. If you want to cultivate a long lasting, productive working partnership with your Subject Matter Expert then you'll need to focus on communication and teamwork right from the start. Here are some of the ways to make them an integral part of your eLearning project and offer them the support they need to succeed.

  1. Come to your first meeting fully prepared.
    When you arrive at your introductory meeting, you should already have some knowledge of the subject matter. It’s true that they are the experts, but it’s important that you have a general idea of what the topic entails and what learners need to know. This gives you the opportunity to create a list of targeted questions for your Subject Matter Expert and make your first meet-and-greet more productive. You don’t need to necessarily scour every encyclopedia and study for hours. Just try to read a few articles or watch videos that focus on the subject. You can also take a look at the Subject Matter Expert's website, if possible, to get a feel for their expertise and work process.
  2. Introduce them to the process, if they are new.
    If your Subject Matter Expert is not familiar with eLearning course design, then you may want to offer them a detailed overview of the process. Walk them through every step, from start-to-finish, and provide them with a timeline of when each step should be completed. Also, be clear about their involvement at each stage. For example, if they will not need to deliver anything until phase 3 of the eLearning project, you can still discuss what happens in the first 2 phases and who is involved in those aspects of the eLearning course design.
  3. Clarify goals and expectations.
    You should be completely forthcoming about what your Subject Matter Expert needs to complete, when, and how they fit into the “big picture”. Be clear about the overall goals of the eLearning project, as well as their individual goals, so that there isn’t any confusion later on. Essentially, they need to know how they are expected to participate in the process and what they must do in order to fulfill their job responsibilities. Include as many details and due dates as possible, and make sure that they don’t have any questions or concerns regarding their work duties.
  4. Be as flexible as possible.
    In a perfect world eLearning professionals would not have to contend with illnesses, challenging work tasks, and other unforeseen events that push back deadlines. However, there are bound to be things that come up during the project, especially if you are working with a larger team. This is why it’s important to be flexible, compassionate, and understanding with your Subject Matter Expert. If they need help with a task, then try to offer them the resources they need. If they fall ill or experience a family emergency, do your best to accommodate them. Flexibility can lead to a productive and successful collaboration that achieves the desired results.
  5. Ask about their preferences.
    Every Subject Matter Expert has their own set of preferences. While some might prefer video chats, others like to be in contact via email or instant messages. Ask your Subject Matter Expert about their preferences in the very beginning to avoid issues in the future. For example, you may want to ask them when they are usually available to discuss the eLearning project or if they want to work on the entire online module at once or lesson-by-lesson. Make a note of all of their preferences for later reference and encourage them to let you know if anything changes over the course of the eLearning project.
  6. Get them involved in the decision-making process.
    Your Subject Matter Expert should have an active role in all of the key decisions you make, especially when it comes to the eLearning course content. Solicit their feedback whenever possible and make it clear that you value their opinion. Keep in mind that they are the main source of information. Thus, they can give your eLearning team insight into the topic, and the minds of your learners, if you give them the opportunity to do so. Try to hold periodic meetings to ensure that everyone is on track and on the same page. During these meetings you can go over any key decisions that must be made in the near future and ask everyone to brainstorm some ideas or share their honest opinions.
  7. Show some appreciation.
    Everybody needs a pat on the back from time to time. Your Subject Matter Expert is no exception. Show them appreciation and gratitude for all their hard work via email or a video conference call. It’s always a good idea to do this upon the completion of the eLearning project, but also after they achieve specific milestones. Let them know that they are an essential part of your eLearning team and that you’ve noticed their efforts. Even a “thank you” can go along way and make them feel appreciated. Above all else, ensure that your Subject Matter Expert knows that their experience, insights, and expertise are of real value to you and your eLearning team.

Ensuring that everyone is on the same page and communicating clearly is the secret to successful collaboration. Making a great first impression with your Subject Matter Expert and clarifying expectations improves your chances of an effective partnership for years to come.

Want to know how you can improve the collaboration between your eLearning colleagues? Read the article The Top 7 Qualities Of A High Performance eLearning Team and discover that high performance eLearning teams don’t just happen.