Working with SMEs: Strategies and Tools for Success

Working with SMEs Strategies and Tools for Success By Nicole Darby

Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) play a key role in enriching online learning platforms by providing essential knowledge that elevates course standards, makes the content more relevant, and promotes active learner participation. However, integrating SMEs into the instructional design process often presents difficulties such as protecting intellectual property, coordinating schedules, and overcoming communication barriers, which can hinder joint efforts.

It is vital to have strategies in place for effective cooperation with SMEs to minimize project setbacks and secure the successful development of online learning. By identifying and rectifying common missteps and the available technology, instructional designers can facilitate a smoother workflow, thereby improving the quality and precision of online learning material.

Common Mistakes and Missteps in SME Collaboration

Four common challenges in collaborating with SMEs on eLearning projects include:

  1. Knowledge Gaps and Conflicting Opinions: When working with subject matter experts, differences in expectations and different understandings of the need can create big problems, leading to misunderstandings and project delays
  2. Obstacles in Communication: Communication problems like different communication methods, time zone differences, and difficulty reaching each other can make collaboration harder. Establishing clear communication channels from the beginning is important to align expectations and keep the project moving forward smoothly.
  3. Technological Hurdles and Irregular Feedback: Not all SMEs are adept at technology, which can present difficulties in exploiting team collaboration tools effectively. Moreover, sporadic feedback during the evaluation process can instigate a lack of clear direction and persistent irregularities in eLearning content.
  4. Scope Creep and Cultural Barriers: Modifications in project dimensions can trigger hold-ups and overshooting of costs, while cultural and linguistic obstacles might introduce further complexities in comprehending and implementing project mandates effectively.

To mitigate these challenges, it is essential to:

  • Establish clear and consistent communication channels Include SMEs early in the process to ensure their availability and involvement.
  • Provide SMEs with an understanding of the eLearning development process, project objectives, and learning objectives.
  • Utilize unified design feedback and QA platforms to streamline feedback and collaboration.

By addressing these common mistakes and missteps in SME collaboration, eLearning projects can achieve better outcomes, enhancing the quality and effectiveness of the learning experience.

Strategies for Preventing Project Delays

To prevent project delays when working with SMEs in instructional design, consider the following strategies:

Enhance Teamwork Technique: Dissect the cooperation process into seven fundamental steps: Planning, Teamwork, Content Creation, Quality Check, Final Touches, Evaluation and Ongoing Enhancement, and Acknowledgement and Gratitude. This systematic methodology ensures a seamless operation and sets clear expectations at each level.

Capitalize on Tech and Rapid eLearning: Employ rapid eLearning techniques to minimize SME touchpoints, facilitating faster reviews and curriculum creation. Adopt resources like cloud-based composition tools for real-time teamwork and online critique platforms for efficient feedback.

Proactive Communication and Teamwork Structure: Set up transparent communication paths and routine meetings to synchronize objectives and share progress. Apply a cooperative structure using project management and design critique instruments to nurture an environment of understanding, patience, and active engagement among all team members.

These strategies, grounded in preparation, technology use, and effective communication, are pivotal in navigating the challenges of working with SMEs, ensuring project timelines are met, and instructional design objectives are achieved.

Leveraging Technology for Smooth Collaboration

Leveraging technology for smooth collaboration with SMEs is pivotal in eLearning projects. Here are key strategies and tools to facilitate this process:

  • Unified Collaboration Platforms: Using a consolidated platform for client feedback and cooperation simplifies handling feedback and alterations, ensuring everyone is in agreement. Platforms such as Teams or Slack provide centralized spaces for communication and file sharing.
  • Asynchronous Collaboration Tools: These tools facilitate asynchronous collaboration, conserving time and cognitive resources by bypassing unnecessary meetings.
  • Project Management Tools: Tools such as Asana or Trello aid in effectively tracking projects and managing task delegation.
  • Knowledge Management Platforms: Platforms such as Sharepoint offer unified spaces for organizing and disseminating knowledge ensures that team members have access to relevant information.
  • eLearning Authoring Tools: Software such as Articulate Storyline, Adobe Captivate, or Camtasia allows for the creation of interactive and engaging eLearning content and have options for gathering feedback from SMEs.

By integrating these strategies and tools, instructional designers and SMEs can overcome common collaboration challenges, enhancing the efficiency and quality of eLearning projects.


Throughout this article, we have explored the multifaceted challenges of collaborating with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in the development of eLearning, ranging from bridging knowledge gaps to overcoming technical hurdles and communication barriers.

By implementing strategic measures such as streamlined collaboration processes, effective technology use and clear communication channels, instructional designers can significantly enhance the efficiency, quality, and effectiveness of eLearning projects. These efforts not only smooth out the collaboration landscape but also ensure that SMEs’ invaluable insights are seamlessly integrated into the learning experience.

The significance of these strategies extends beyond merely avoiding project delays; they foster a culture of empathy and understanding, crucial for a productive collaboration between instructional designers and SMEs.

Are you looking to augment your staff with an Instructional Designer skilled in working with SMEs? Let our practitioner Relationship Managers find the best consultant for your upcoming project.

Are you an Instructional Designer looking for your next contract position? View our list of available contract positions.

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Nicole Darby

Nicole is a serious introvert who knows how to extrovert as needed but needs ample time regrouping by watching foreign films (she loves anything with a subtitle) and playing the “old-school” arcade game Galaga. Happy Places: any tropical beach, time with her son, and helping women/youth actualize their dreams.
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Nicole is a serious introvert who knows how to extrovert as needed but needs ample time regrouping by watching foreign films (she loves anything with a subtitle) and playing the “old-school” arcade game Galaga. Happy Places: any tropical beach, time with her son, and helping women/youth actualize their dreams.

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