Curriculum Design with Subject Matter Experts
by Lester L. Stephenson
Trainers and Instructional Designers often receive curriculum design assignments to create courses, about which they know little or nothing. Instructional Designers’ success depends upon their relationship with subject matter experts (SMEs). Rarely do SMEs have training skills. SMEs know what they do but are often unable to formally teach these skills. SMEs can provide subject matter content Instructional Designers will never discover. Instructional designers use this content to create useful courses.
Getting StartedIdentifying the SME for each project is critical. SMEs may not be the fastest workers on the job but will be the ones who complete their work accurately and completely. SMEs are usually seen as resources for other workers due to their flexibility, strong communication skills, and ability to deal with disruption. Required SME skills vary depending on the project. The design for a technical course to operate a machine or production process will differ vastly from software training, sales, or customer service.
Advantages to Early SME Involvement in Curriculum DesignThe best way to ensure success is to involve SMEs from the beginning, starting with the first planning session. There are several advantages to early SME involvement, including:
- It establishes rapport and lets SMEs know their contribution is important.
- SMEs can help to focus the planning because they have detailed knowledge of the job task.
- Early SME involvement helps eliminate differences of opinion about what the course should contain and who will make the ultimate decision on content.
- Eliminating misunderstanding at the beginning will prevent confusion later that could cause training efforts to suffer.
Interviewing SMEsAn alternative to receiving a lot of raw content from SMEs is to interview them. Prepare for interviews by making an effort to gain some understanding of the subject. Do some research and try to find answers to the most basic questions before meeting with SMEs. Ask questions about the job task from beginning to end. Often, SMEs are too close to the process to see it from a course development view. Instructional Designers will have to guide interviews by asking questions like:
- Could you walk me through the basic process from beginning to end?
- What information must learners absolutely know to do the job well?
- Can you provide some real world scenarios and problems?
- What information or support do people have? Do they use it? If not, why not?
- What mistakes do new people make?
- What mistakes do people make when they get over-confident?
- How would you describe this to a 10-year old?
- Which people are involved in the process or action?
- What would happen if Person X didn’t do his or her part?
- If a person doesn’t know a key fact, what can go wrong?
- Is any part of the process optional?
- What pressures are people under?
- Are people rewarded if they achieve the desired performance? How?