Beyond the vague response of “subject matter,” what exactly does a subject matter expert (SME) contribute to course development? The answer is content leadership. To paraphrase Dr. de Bono, the SME understands what information matters and what doesn’t. The SME also makes instructional decisions about what content to include in the course. Of all the members of the course-development team, the SME is in the best position to determine which subject matter will help learners achieve the desired learning outcome.
The SME role is designed to add value to the course-development process. That value is content driven. As a contributing member of the project team, the SME provides content leadership in the following seven critical areas:
- Vision. With their training and experience, SMEs can visualize the learning process as a path that leads from little or no knowledge of course content to mastery of course learning objectives. SMEs have the perspective to see this pathway as subject-matter requirements; they use that knowledge to develop content that helps learners reach the desired knowledge state.
- Credibility. In every course, the content must be right. The learning provider demands accuracy and the learner deserves it. SMEs add credibility to a course-development project and provide assurance that the subject matter is technically accurate.
- Content selection. The fastest route to course failure is selecting the wrong content for the course. SMEs prevent content-driven course failure; they have the expertise to select the right content for achieving the expected outcome. From facts to procedures, they know what to include in course content.
- Content evaluation. The potential pool of subject matter within a course is often greater than the project scope allows. SMEs can sift through information, differentiating between high- and low-value content. They can quickly determine what subject matter to keep and what to leave out.
- Content form. An effective course supports the learning process by delivering content in the most effective way. SMEs can use their expertise to shape which content is provided and the form that content will take. For example, an SME can determine the best way to leverage subject matter for use in case studies, flashcards, and discussion questions.
- Efficiency. Course development is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. By delivering content at predetermined intervals, SMEs help make the development process more efficient. The content provided by the SME helps the instructional designer and other members of the development team manage their workloads more effectively.
- Two-way interaction. Written reference materials are typically a necessary, and often indispensable, development resource. Their weakness? They are also static in nature, offering one-way interaction with the subject matter. SMEs, on the other hand, are active participants in the project. The two-way interaction between the SME and the project team contributes to the efficiency and effectiveness of the development process.
SMEs are valuable members of the project development team. Their leadership in content development is critical to the design of an effective and successful course.
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