The Mysterious Subject Matter Expert (SME)

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Previous Posts in this series:

What is the Role of a Subject Matter Expert in the Process of eLearning Development?

In my previous post on eLearning, I had made an attempt to demystify the role of a Project Manager. This post will help you explore the many facets of a Subject Matter Expert’s role in the process of eLearning content development.

The SME’s role is misunderstood often, and the primary reason behind this error is the fact that some organizations roll the SME and the ID into one. I wouldn’t say that an SME cannot be an ID, but not all SME’s are built to become instructional designers. I’ll give you an example. Einstein could’ve been the biggest expert on the Theory of Relativity, but could he be the best content developer/instructional designer if your organization were developing eLearning courses on Relativity?

I would think not. Ideally, the Subject Matter Expert’s schema should be overflowing with subject related knowledge and she or he shouldn’t be forced to create content, for a genuine expert would want to tell everything he knew of the subject and wouldn’t bother to constrain his flow of knowledge through the use of Instructional Design principles.

The eLearning development process has the potential of bringing the best of skills together to create the best possible course.

So…what does an SME (also pronounced Smee) or a Subject Matter Expert do?

Simply speaking, the SME provides content expertise. This means that the SME:

  • Helps the content developer or the instructional designer establish the scope of the course and write the course objectives.
  • Provides content for the course and supplies the appropriate references for it.
  • Provides examples and activities and/or reviews the examples and activities that the instructional designer creates.
  • Reviews the work of the instructional designer for content accuracy.
  • Reviews the resulting course/content  for content accuracy.

The SME – ID Relationship:

You can’t end a post on the SME without discussing the bitter-sweet relationship that the SME and the ID share.

The SME is usually perceived as a person with a cranky disposition. I believe that this perception has its genesis in the usual age-gap between the SME and the ID, and so while the SME believes that he (or she) shouldn’t be answerable to the little mite (read the ID) the ID thinks of the SME as arrogance personified – someone whose sole purpose in life is to make her life miserable.

I guess this stereotypical relationship between the SME and the ID is quite like the Mother-in-Law and Daughter-in-Law relationship…so it’s best not to feel bad about it. Instead try to get along the best you can.