How To Convince Your Subject Matter Expert That Less Is More

by Andrea May

Working with subject matter experts is not a straight-forward, one-size-fits-all affair. There’s no rulebook with a single set of rules that works for every SME you’ll encounter. Instead, each SME presents a unique challenge for instructional designers and other L&D professionals. But, before you can work with a SME effectively, you must identify what type of SME they are. Figuring that out involves determining their priorities and the biases they hold regarding teaching others about their area of expertise.

One of our seven SME archetypes, the “Include-It-All” SME, can be especially troublesome for instructional designers, particularly new or inexperienced ones. The “Include-It-All” SME is a true expert in their chosen field. They know all there is to know about a specific software, or whatever happens to be their niche. Their schemas and mental models are highly developed and, as such, they have difficulty separating the “need-to-know” from the “nice-to-know” when it comes to the process of imparting a new learner with their vast knowledge and wisdom.

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