Improving the ID/SME Partnership for Effective Online Course Design

Most colleges are creating online courses that serve the learners’ needs for flexibility and convenience. A positive partnership between an instructional designer, or ID, and a subject matter expert, or SME, can lead to a dynamic online course. It’s all about teamwork! 

Are you facing challenges, such as limited resources and time constraints to create an online course? What about faculty buy-in? Designing an online course involves more than moving textbook content to slides. It also involves understanding how to engage a learner online. Sometimes faculty don’t understand the role and contribution of an instructional designer. IDs work with SMEs to create engaging and interactive online courses. But, most importantly, it is the SMEs who have the expertise to bring meaning to it. Therefore, partnering a SME with an ID will result in an effective and engaging online course that serves the learner. 

Here are some best practices that will ensure a successful partnership: 

Create a good match 

Partnering a SME with an ID who has expertise in the same area will strengthen the partnership. They will speak the same language and understand the significance of the content. The learner will benefit by being engaged with the nuances that bring meaning to the course.

Clarify roles 

The best way to reduce tension between IDs and SMEs is to understand each other’s roles and expectations. The SME has a wealth of knowledge and ideas on how to present the content. The ID knows how to design the content for an effective online course. In the early stages of design, the roles need to be clarified so the process will be smooth. 


When looking for an ID, ask the right questions to ensure your project has the right expertise. Download this free handout that lists the 4 critical questions you must ask an ID.


Outline the online course design process

Online course development is an iterative process. Therefore, a detailed outline should be created that includes goals and accounts for time. Most often, a SME will be juggling a full-time job and helping with the design process. To reduce tension, it is important to be clear about the SMEs time commitment to the design process. Most importantly, the IDs  understanding of the SMEs work schedule and willingness to work with it will build rapport. 


Pairing a SME with an ID who has expertise in the same area will strengthen the partnership. Share on X

Be open to feedback

Both the ID and SME should be open to feedback throughout the development of the online course. Feedback is an important step in the process because it helps stimulate conversation and ideas. Most importantly, it catches content mistakes early on and decreases the need for redesign. 

Partnering a SME with an ID is important when creating a course. SMEs are the ‘go-to’ people for adding meaning to the content. They have been delivering the content in a classroom for years and know how to engage learners. It is the ID who brings the SMEs knowledge to life in an engaging online course.

Who is A Pass?

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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