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9 Questions To Ask Your SME When Developing A New Course

9 Questions To Ask Your SME When Developing A New Course
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Summary: As Instructional Designers, we frequently partner with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to develop brand new courses. Use these 9 questions in your next meeting to get the information you need and produce the course that they want!

Developing A New Course? What To Ask Your SME Beforehand

In this article, find out how you can create a course that perfectly fits the Subject Matter Expert's (SME) vision by asking these 9 questions in your next meeting:

1. Who Is The Intended Audience?

Understanding the audience will help you to adjust the style and tone of your course design. Speaking to the understanding of the individuals that make up the "learners" will help to create buy-in, and can act as a motivating factor for the learner.

There are a variety of features that you can apply to your course to make it more relatable to a specific audience. Such as:

  • Words and phrases
  • Industry-specific knowledge
  • Fonts
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Color schemes
  • Shapes
  • Patterns
  • Decade-based references
  • Pop-culture references
  • Geographical references
  • Demographic references
  • Experience-based references

2. What Is Your Overall Message?

Ask your SME to sum up their intended message into just a couple of sentences. This will create a really solid focal point for you to design your course around. It also works as a great checkpoint to ensure each of your lessons follow the same trend, without getting too off-track or going too deep into a subsection.

3. What Material Do You Want To Include?

Ask your SME for a concrete list of topic points that need to be covered in your course, along with the order of the flow of information. Use these topic points as a source for building a to-do list to guide you during the design phase, and also a list in your final meeting with your SME to demonstrate that you have met each of their requests.

4. When Would You Like The Project Done?

Deadlines are very important, so partner with your SME to set a hard deadline, even if they have a more laid back approach. Also, always be honest with yourself about how much you currently have in your workload or how much you anticipate coming. Consider how these tasks could impact the course that you are building for the SME and honestly communicate this when determining deadlines.

5. When Would You Like To Meet Next?

It is always a good idea to send over a sample of work prior to diving completely into the course. Your follow-up meeting could be done via email, phone, or in person, but ensure to schedule a time and date that works for both you and the SME to help mitigate any misunderstandings or a high number of revisions on the back end.

6. Where Does This Course Fit In With Your Department's Overall Message?

Gain an understanding of what the overall message of the department is and how your course fits into this message. Perhaps this course is for a beginner or new hire, or maybe it is for a top producer. By understanding where your course fits in with the department’s intended message, you will better be able to produce a great course that the SME approves of.

7. Why Would The Learner Need Or Want To Learn This?

Use this question to determine the learner’s motivation. Understanding the “why” behind the course allows you to connect with the learner and help them to see why the course benefits them directly.

8. How Would You Prefer To Communicate?

No two SMEs are exactly alike. Cater to your SME by asking how they prefer to communicate project updates, questions, and suggestions. SMEs have busy jobs too! Asking for the SME’s preferred frequency, helps you to communicate effectively without overloading or overwhelming them.

9. Where Can I Go To Get More Information On The Topic?

Don’t try to guess and fill in content for your course. It is important to ask for concrete sources, such as websites, blogs, pages on the intranet, emails, previous meeting notes, and more to help develop the information you include in the course. Broadening your source of information beyond the SME allows you to not only better educate yourself, but also the learner.

Bonus Tip: Pay Attention To The Words “Do” And “Don’t”

While taking notes during meetings with your SME, really hone into the tasks that they request you to do and not to do. It is helpful to break up your notes by having a table with a do’s and don’ts column, or you could make a point to write the words “do” and “don't” next to the tasks as you list them out.

Using this technique helps to ensure you always give the SME exactly what they ask for and nothing that they don’t. It also acts as a great reference when you may forget a detail or two from the meetings.