Difference Between SMEs and Course Authors

subject matter expert

Why can’t the subject matter expert just write the course? Why would anyone hire a course author?

Course authors bring valuable skills to a project. Besides that, course experts identify what is the correct delivery method for the audience. This skill alone could pay back those who hire a course author. Yet, the difference between SMEs and course authors gets overshadowed by the budget.


They’re both experts… in different areas. 

SMEs are content experts. SMEs know their subject. Course authors are experts in how people learn. Course authors understand that different audiences need different learning experiences. Adult learners and K-12 audiences have different needs. Subject matter experts need different content than new hires. A preschool teacher needs different materials than a high school teacher. Fifth-grade students need different science experiments than a high school senior. Course authors are able to create information for the appropriate audience. Yet, SMEs and course authors work together well. 


Course authors convert SMEs know-how into a course.

SMEs did not learn everything they know about their topic in one day. Yet, a content expert tends to dump all their knowledge into a slide deck. A course author works with the SME to figure out the sequence on how to deliver the content. Course authors build learning activities. Course authors plan for sustainable delivery of the content which frees the SME to work. A developer points out the gaps a new learner will have. SMEs tend to start where they are at, not where the student is at. Instructional designers work with the SME to draw out the basic items which help students ease into the program. Besides that, course authors organize the SMEs content into a learning experience. 


Course authors know what to measure. 

Many SMEs believe that content covered equals content learned. Besides that, this method ensures students will be bored in the classroom. Yet, course authors know how to measure the success of the course. Learning metrics complement business metrics. A good course author will meet with the stakeholders to design the course to organizational goals. SMEs may have an outdated view of what classroom success looks like. SMEs tend to get stuck on old school tests. Course authors can push SMEs to demonstrate content knowledge in a variety of project-based assignments and return on investment.  


Course authors understand the ID process.

Still, course authors have dedicated their careers to learning about course design. Besides that, course authors keep on top of the latest trends in education. Developers are fluent in the various instructional design methodology. Moreover, authors can use the appropriate tools in the most effective way. Authors stay abreast of the latest developments in eLearning. 


Course authors are tech-savvy in the course authoring tools.

Besides that, course authors know how to structure the content to work inside the LMS. Authors know how to translate what is happening inside the course into doable objectives in the system.  Designers are able to use the software’s ability to test and evaluate. Course authors are experts in the various tech tools needed to do the course well. Still, rapid authoring tools are easy for SMEs to pick up. Yet, advanced skills are needed in video editing, photoshop, and audio production. SMEs may not have time to learn these tools on top of their workload.


Course authors understand the legal hoops.

Most importantly, course authors understand the legal hoops needed to make a course. They know copyright laws for music use. They understand how to handle intellectual property. Authors are up-to-speed on what is required legally to ensure that all participants are able to participate in the course. They also understand cybersecurity enough to know how to secure sensitive content. 


In sum, content authors and SMEs are most effective when paired together. They both bring expertise to the course development process. A course author does not need to be a subject matter expert. Yet, it takes much longer for an SME to become an effective course author.

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A Pass Educational Group, LLC is an organization dedicated to the development of quality educational resources. We partner with publishers, K-12 schools, higher ed institutions, corporations, and other educational stakeholders to create custom quality content. Have questions?

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