Subject Matter Expert: Use In-House or Outsource?

When designing curriculum, a subject matter expert, or SME, is called upon for their expertise in the subject area. There are two routes to choose from when selecting SMEs:

  1. Using a SME that is already a part of your company
  2. Outsourcing a SME

Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages. Being aware of the pros and cons of each will help you to better navigate while working with a subject matter expert.

subject matter expert

In-House

Let’s begin with the good stuff. If you are working with a subject matter expert in-house, you may experience a faster response time. The in-house SME has likely worked on another project before and has developed a rapport with the team. Since they may already be familiar with the workflow, this may save time explaining to them how to document suggested changes and navigate the content of the course. It also may be easier to communicate with an in-house SME.

There are some drawbacks to using in-house SMEs, however. For example, they may already be the dedicated SME on several other projects. This can limit their availability to the project and make it more difficult to answer all of the questions that team members have. The in-house SME may also have less experience working in the field because they dedicate more time to working as a SME on projects. This can decrease the amount of “real world” experience the SME has to offer.

Pros: Faster response time, familiar with workflow

Cons: Less availability, less field experience

Outsourcing

Using an outsourced subject matter expert has its advantages as well. He or she may bring a new and fresh perspective to the material. The SME can share new ways of working with the team from their work experience. This individual may also bring a different background and new knowledge that the in-house staff does not have. During the initial onboarding phase, the outsourced SME may have agreed to dedicate a specific amount of time to the project, allowing the team to know what they can realistically expect and when these tasks may be accomplished. This makes it easier for the team to plan their workflow and milestones for the project. If the SME was sourced through a vendor, they may have their own project manager, which can reduce costs.

subject matter expert

Outsourcing a SME comes with its own set of challenges. When working with a vendor, the line of communication can sometimes slow down. Maybe this delay results from the necessary learning curve when working in a new workflow or a difference in communication styles. Finally, working with an outsourced SME can cause initial confusion in the company workflow. This confusion can result in using additional time to train the SME.

Pros: New perspective/different knowledge, agreed upon availability

Cons: Slower response time, unfamiliarity with company workflow

Final Thoughts

Finding the right subject matter expert is important for the quality and accuracy of the content in the course. You want your course to have up-to-date and relevant content. The right SME may already be part of your team or they may be working in the field, awaiting your call. Whether a SME is sourced in-house or has been outsourced, a curriculum development team will need to develop a good rapport and work through the project together. Keeping the pros and cons in mind will help you navigate your relationship with your SME.

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