Our Thinking

The Subject Matter Expert and the Instructional Designer – A Match Made for Learning

Jennifer Kerwin

If you’ve worked in your industry for a while and understand what it takes to excel at your job, chances are you’re a subject matter expert. But if you’re a subject matter expert – a ‘SME’ – why would you have to work with someone else to develop training? After all, a SME would appear to know the most about the content and target audience.

Instructional designers are learning experts. They focus on learners and determine how information can best be structured in light of learners’ existing skills, knowledge and learning preferences, as well as the organization’s infrastructure to support learning.

Being a subject expert and working closely with a body of knowledge changes your perspective. You don’t see things in the same way as someone who is new to the subject. In contrast, the instructional designer is new to the subject in the same way the target audience will be. This fresh perspective enables instructional designers to navigate the SME’s depth of knowledge and pull out the most important points that the target audience needs to learn.

Key skills that an instructional designer brings to a learning project include the ability to:

  • Identify key target audience characteristics
  • Quickly learn and organize subject matter
  • Remain impartial in selecting information that meets both audience and organizational needs
  • Restructure information to clearly and quickly teach it
  • Design an evaluation to measure whether the audience has learned the material

The partnership between a subject matter expert and an instructional designer is where the magic really happens (well, I think it’s magic). Both bring their expertise to the table – the SMEs, their content knowledge; instructional designers, their learning and technical experience.


The SME and ID Partnership

The SME and ID Partnership

The outcome of this partnership is a learning solution that takes advantage of the SME’s knowledge combined with the instructional designer’s practical application of adult learning theory to create an engaging learning experience.

The result? Changed behaviors and attitudes that deliver the business results that companies need. That’s something every SME can appreciate.

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