How SMEs Can Contribute Greatly to eLearning Development

The need for relevant and effective eLearning content is growing hand in hand with the growth of the training and learning industry. To develop and deliver eLearning content, it is necessary to implement time-saving techniques in every step in the process. This includes extracting relevant information out of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), which can take up an unnecessary large chunk of the total development time. SMEs already have a lot of information and knowledge available. If the eLearning development team can ascertain what and how much of it can be utilized, then a lot of time and effort can be saved – all leading to faster eLearning development.

In traditional instructor-led training, most SMEs are more involved in the creation of the learning material as well as delivery of learning. Most SMEs assemble the learning material for learners and teach them directly. In contrast, for eLearning, a separate team of instructional designers (ID) design and develop the learning content while SMEs provide IDs with the information and knowledge they need to prepare e-learning material.


There are different levels at which SMEs get involved with the creation of learning content. For courses where domain-specific knowledge and skills must be developed, SMEs must provide IDs with high-quality content. However, the extent of an SME’s contribution can vary, depending on the amount and quality of existing material. In fact, it is very likely that a set of materials for a specific subject is already available. A lot of existing learning content can be utilized for creating e-learning content:

  • User manuals and technical documentation. Though these documents can seldom be used as is, they provide a lot of information which can be converted into smaller chunks that can be presented as suitable e-learning content.
  • Classroom course handouts and lecture notes. SMEs rely a lot on classroom handouts to share extra information and supplement classroom lectures. In addition, lecture notes also provide a great deal of information on the topic in a format which is information heavy. These can also provide a lot of information for creating relevant e-learning content.
  • PowerPoint Presentations. Most of these presentations are crisp and effective. The added information that the SME often talks about in the classroom can most of the time be included in the ‘notes’ section which can provide detailed knowledge in the topic.
  • Case studies. Examples and practical knowledge can be gained by reading case studies that SMEs often refer to. This can be a good resource for creating e-learning material.
  • Illustrative material: Photographs, images, graphs or tables can also be utilized while creating an e-course and make it learner-friendly.
  • Reference materials. Specialized material like reading lists and glossaries can also be utilized when creating e-learning content.

But in-spite of the wide array of existing material that can be utilized for e-learning content creation, existing training materials and documents cannot be automatically transformed into e-learning materials by just making them available online. Developers need to keep in mind the important fact that e-learning differs from face-to-face training and requires specific formats.

For self-paced e-learning in particular, learning content must be carefully designed to provide adequate instructional support to allow learners learn independently. Here are two different scenarios and the level of support required from the SME for rapid e-learning content development.

Scenario 1:

If the existing materials provides high-quality content sufficient to cover each outlined module of the e-course, the SME has to provide the following:

  • Linkages between existing source materials and outlined e-lessons. Most of the existing material has detailed information that cannot be converted into a single learning module and the SME can provide suggestions on the break-up of the learning material as well.
  • Practice exercises, assessment questions and learner feedback as needs to be provided on the e-course
  • Glossary terms and relevant descriptions to make the e-course easy to understand without instructor help.
  • Recommended reading and resource pointers for learners who want to do additional reading for a more rounded understanding of the subject.

Scenario 2:

If the existing materials do not adequately cover the content of outlined lessons, the SME’s contribution changes accordingly:

  • SMEs then provide the core content for the e-course, which ensures that learning objectives of the lesson are adequately covered.
  • SMEs also provide assessments and practice exercises
  • Glossary terms and relevant descriptions have to be similarly provided.
  • Additional reading and resource pointers also have to be provided for a deeper understanding of the topic.

The ID team then develops the e-course storyboards which integrate content taken from different source materials, with practice exercises and examples provided by the SME. Here too the SMEs contribute by reviewing the storyboard to verify that the ID has correctly interpreted the content.

For rapid creation of e-content, every step of the development process needs to crunch time. Extracting information from the SME is an important step of e-learning development and a necessary one at that. With suitable interventions and empowering the SME to do more, we can definitely get the best out of SME interactions and create powerful e-learning.

– Arunima Majumdar, G-Cube

Arunima is an e-learning enthusiast. She loves exploring and blogging about innovations in training and learning for the new-age corporate sector.




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