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Turning the Tables: Instructional Designer as SME

August 3, 2010

This post is a reflection on a recently completed project – I was the subject matter expert (SME) for a new online course in instructional design – a welcome opportunity to experience the course development process from a different perspective.

The project was unique in that the course being developed was an instructional design course and all of the members of the team were professional instructional designers. (Reminding me of past experiences where I had to submit a resume for positions that involved resume writing – kind of a double test! The proof is in the pudding and all of that.) I was provided with a course description and list of approved course-level learning objectives.  The next steps were up to me. This was where the adventure began. Normally I hand off a description and objectives. Time to get to work. I began by preparing and submitting a Course Outline and went from there.

Project team

My initial concern was that this could become a case of too much input or competitive in nature, but this was not the case. Collaboration was a priority and effective and I learned from the team in the process.

  • Instructional Designer/Project Manager (ID/PM) – This is my usual place on the team… keep the schedule, set the deadlines, set up and facilitate progress reports and meetings, provide feedback on the work and some copy editing.
  • Multimedia Developer – Took my development guide from Word document to online course pages complete with images, icons, navigation etc. Made great suggestions related to organization and structure.
  • SME – I was to outline the scope and sequence of the content, write any text for the units, select the textbook and course materials, and create assignments.

Food for thought

What could this turning of tables do for my practice?

  • Course/Program Fit – Where does the course fit in with the program? I was provided with the development guide for the course that would precede this one in the degree plan – very helpful! Not something I usually do, but something I should do, especially with new courses and programs. Faculty SMEs tend to be more familiar with the curriculum when working on a revision.
  • Expectations –Assumptions can bog the process down. While it was clear (via detailed contract) on what to expect with this project, there were a few nuances. For example the SMEs I work with aren’t expected to create rubrics, but I was for this project. The more detail the better in the written contract and/or statement of work.
  • Volume of Content – I have heard this from SMEs, the comments about how much original content is required. And now I have experienced it for myself! When the writing of introductions, summaries, case studies etc. is required it can be more time consuming than you anticipate. Scheduling the due dates by unit, or groups of units, was helpful here.
  • Need for Feedback – The ID/PM on this project continuously gave me feedback on the content I was submitting, providing suggestions on ways to expand and clarify the presentation. I need to do more of this with my project SMEs throughout the process.
  • Finished Product – I got a sneak peak via web conference and desktop sharing at what the final version looked like. I wanted to see more! The SMEs I work with ask for this, too. After you’ve spent so much time working with the content it is a feeling of accomplishment to see the finished course online.

This project turned out to be a reality check for me about how I work with SMEs and what could be done differently. How can you improve support to your SMEs?

Image credit: schoeband, Flickr

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2010 10:25 am

    That sounds like an experience any ID could benefit from! Great that you learned so much from it. Thanks for sharing. I would like to experience the same as part of my future training.

  2. August 3, 2010 9:04 pm

    Hi Betsy – thanks for your comment. I think you are onto something. Having this kind of experience could be/should be part of ID training. I remember taking on various roles in course projects – manager, designer, developer – but not SME. An interesting idea that could have big impact!

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