Why Subject Matter Experts Are Essential to Your Training Design Process

What is the best way to create software developer training that is effective and packs a bigger punch? Incorporate subject matter experts (SMEs) into your instructional design process.

SMEs are essential members of an instructional design team. In fact, Training Industry magazine says SMEs are more important than every training team member except the business owner who funds the project. This is because SMEs have the knowledge to root training in concepts proven to deliver tangible results.

There are many things to consider when you seek an SME for your instructional design team. However, before we explore how to identify the right SME, let’s examine the roles they play during the training design process.

What SMEs Bring to the Table

People do not become SMEs overnight. They have developed expertise during productive careers to become a chief authority on a subject. Not only is their knowledge valuable, it is unique and hard to replicate.

This helps SMEs guide your training program to a successful conclusion. Although many people get lost in the details while designing curriculum, an effective SME has the experience to keep your talent goals in focus and your training timeline on track.

SMEs can use their experience to make sure training provides more than a theoretical understanding of new concepts. They can help you create an active learning program to ingrain competencies so employees apply what they learn once they return to work.

Furthermore, training leads can leverage an SME’s professional success to enhance employee engagement. This is achieved by informing employees that an industry expert guided the curriculum process. By promoting an expert’s role in designing a program, you could transform employees who are resistant to training into active classroom participants.

How to Identify SMEs

Before you can add an SME to your instructional design team, you must find the right SME for your needs. To begin, map out the knowledge gap you want to close during training. Then make a list of the expertise required to close that gap. This analysis can drive your search for SMEs who specialize in solving your specific skills deficiencies.

Once you know the type of SME you need, it’s time to mine your professional network. Start by contacting peers with experience in fields that will be your focus during training. This can include colleagues, professionals you’ve met during networking events, or trusted connections on LinkedIn. If this approach bears no fruit, expand your search by contacting professional associations, searching niche job boards, or joining online communities. Another option is to enlist a college professor who specializes in teaching competencies that will be your training focus.

The final component comes down to fit. To narrow the pool of candidates, interview SMEs to determine how they will mesh with your program. This goes beyond making sure candidates are effective communicators, have the right experience, and a successful track record. You also must confirm they can commit to meeting your training timetable and complement your company culture.

Working with Your SMEs

Although SMEs will guide much of your training design, you must onboard them to the team. This process helps them acclimate to the team and capture insights about your skills challenges. Effective onboarding educates SMEs about your organization’s history, products, services, and talent goals.

In addition, you must initiate open conversations with SMEs to define their role on your team. This is necessary to assign responsibilities and establish how SMEs will collaborate with in-house instructional designers. These discussions should account for every phase of the training program, which includes:

  • Planning and Analysis
    Communicate your talent goals and business needs to SMEs. This helps them contribute to identifying talent needs, including the design of a pre-training skills assessment.
  • Design
    Maximize SME input for how the team will customize curriculum. This includes developing realistic training exercises and determining if training will take place online or in a classroom.
  • Delivery
    Gather SME feedback for how to physically (or digitally) build your classroom. They also inform how to teach programming concepts, conduct exercises, and develop homework assignments.
  • Evaluation
    SMEs should help identify methods for evaluating the efficacy of training. Considerations include collecting feedback from trainees and refining training shortcomings on the fly.

Beyond the design process, companies can enhance results by looping SMEs into status updates once classes begin. This gives SMEs a chance to spot the misapplication of curriculum and provide ways to connect with employees who struggle during training.

The Bottom Line: Effective Training Depends on SMEs

Incorporating SMEs into your training program is essential to achieving your desired results. Their knowledge can guide each instructional design phase to ensure your employees develop the skills needed to elevate their performance.

Additionally, SMEs have unique experience that helps them understand your core learning objectives. Rely on them to prepare your employers for new challenges and to assess competencies so you know if training efforts are successful.