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The Role Of Subject Matter Experts in eLearning Course Creation

It is essential to the eLearning development process that the subject matter expert (SME) is involved at key stages.

The SME is required to:

  • ensure that the content is in place and that it matches the course objectives,
  • act as a contact point for the ‘client’ and liaise/consult with stakeholders in the organisation (steering group, peers, subject specialists) to get their input and feedback at each stage,
  • take an ‘editorial’ role, providing the overview for interpreting requirements/feedback.


At the beginning of the storyboard process, the Instructional Designer should interview the SME to understand their particular view of the content supplied.

  • work it through with them, get their ideas, and try to establish their expectations.
  • take the time to do the mock-ups and write out the animation even if it just a hand drawing,
  • Show examples of other course pages that are similar - the idea in the SMEs mind may be totally different from yours as all comments are open to misinterpretation.

Reviewing the storyboard with the design ideas within agreed timelines is a necessary step to check the ideas are in line with the SMEs expectations and the treatment of the content has retained the key messages. The build of any interactivity is an expensive part of the process so it is important that the SME understands the intent and how it will achieve the learning outcome.

The Subject Matter Expert then has the role of finalising the content including text, images, animations and interactivity before the storyboard is signed off.

Draft Course Development

The SME must be able to view and comment on the “draft” course including course templates, navigation container and the colour scheme. This can be enlightening for the SME - often viewing the draft sparks new ideas and a desire to make amendments. It is much easier to make changes at this stage rather than when the course is complete and there is a disappointment in the end result.

To ensure the design meet the SME’s requirements designers should:

  • work directly with SMEs to capture their ideas and establish their expectations,
  • take the time to do the mock-ups and write out the animation even if it just a hand drawing,
  • and show examples of other course pages that are similar. This is a vital stage as the idea in the SME’s mind may be significantly different.

eNetAuthor’s is a cloud based authoring tool built with workplace collaboration in mind. Using the inbuilt project preview functionality, subject experts can review all course elements, leaving comments per page if necessary to communicate required amendments to the instructional designers.

Communicating in this way ensures misinterpretation on points is kept to a minimum and as a cloud authoring tool it allows for designers and instructional designers to liaise effectively regardless of their location.

The draft course sign-off is an agreement on the basic design, look and feel. At this point any bespoke interactivity mock-ups including dialogue, animation, narrative, mouse movements and images and video will need to be signed off.

SME Time Commitment

Average meeting time can be approximately 4 x ½ day meetings. To ensure smooth running of the process, availability of the SME should be checked in advance and meetings scheduled.

The SME will need adequate time to read, understand and agree storyboards, designs, mock-ups and interactivity and may also need to liaise with others. It is important that you check that the SME is clear on who needs to be involved in the sign off process.

Be sure to make yourself available for any questions or queries as and when they arise - storing these up to discuss at a later date may result in a delay to the project.

Course development time depends on how quickly ideas and designs are agreed and how effectively questions/queries are dealt with. As a general rule however it will require at least 4 days of a SMEs time.

This time frame is likely to reduce for subsequent courses but will still be 2 – 3 days per course. It is important that the SME can commit the time required to complete the tasks.

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