Quick Tips to Help Your SME Curate eLearning Content

It’s a given that subject matter experts (SME) are, well, experts. SMEs understand the ins-and-outs of their subject, the nuances of how similar topics relate to it, and why it’s all important.

On your journey to becoming an expert, you amass many resources about that topic. Lifelong learners tend to squirrel away all of the little nuts of information in notebooks, boxes, filing cabinets, internet bookmarks, apps like Evernote and Pinterest, scraps of paper, etc. Some of these resources were important when they were saved, but are less useful when you have to downsize or sift through the mess find the best resource for a particular task.

This can make it can difficult for a SME to cut out the content that doesn’t meet the learners needs. As instructional designers (ID), we can make their job easier by asking the right questions.

The Importance of Curating the Right Resources

Picking great content is like curating art at a contemporary art gallery. Each piece is carefully considered before it’s added to the exhibit eventually viewed by the public. Like the art collection, each piece of eLearning content should be relevant, engaging, and useful to the audience—and delivered when the learner needs it.

Extraneous information overwhelms the learner. Remember, learners aren’t experts—they must learn to decipher what’s important. Learners overburdened with cognitive load from unnecessary information will have a more difficult time learning what’s critical to mastering the content.

As IDs, we also have to consider the student’s time to complete everything in the course. Students are busy people with busy lives—sometimes they don’t have time to read 10 articles, watch a billion (or even three) hour-long videos, and complete the course activities each week.

It’s difficult for experts to remember what it’s like to be a beginner—so it can be difficult for a SME to narrow down the essentials that a beginner needs to know. So, you’ll need to help your SMEs determine what’s essential to the course.

Curating Course Resources

First of all, whether the subject matter expert is choosing traditional resources or selecting other materials like open educational resources (OER), the content needs to be accessible. Also, you need the proper copyright permissions to use the materials. If the content is missing either of these things, you should pass on it.

Then, you should ask the SME the following questions.

Why should the student view this resource?

Try to determine the value of the resource. Does the student need the resource to complete an assignment or activity? Do the readings, audio and videos, images or graphics truly support the weekly objectives and course learning outcomes?

Is this the best source?

Is the resource a seminal text? A primary resource may fit this description, but sometimes you might need a source that’s more relevant or applicable to current trends.

Also, consider whether the SME picked a similar resource that fills the same role. Ask your SME, “If you had to downsize the content, which source would you keep?”

A Curated Collection of Resources

Finally, divide your content into buckets of “need to know” or “nice to know.” For the “nice to know” content that the SME doesn’t want to part with, we sometimes create an “Optional Resources” folder to house the supplemental materials. This allows students to explore on their own terms—and perhaps add the resource to their newly formed collection of knowledge.

And while these questions will help your SME think about their resources, sometimes you just need to refer them to your friendly neighborhood librarian for help with locating relevant, engaging sources.

Have you found a question that helps SMEs choose the right resource? Or, if you’re a subject matter expert, what have you found useful for curating content for your course? Give us your best tips in the comments or on Twitter.


Author: Jessica Bishop, Instructional Designer

Jessica is a designer and writer focused on learnability, storytelling, sensemaking, wayfinding, and removing barriers to learning. A Michigan native, she likes crafting, reading, walking, and spending way too much time in the distant corners of the internet. You can also find her at JessicaMBishop.com.

6 thoughts on “Quick Tips to Help Your SME Curate eLearning Content”

  1. Great article! You pointed out (and quite rightly so) that SMEs sometimes forget what it’s like to be a beginner. When working with SMEs (and when I’m the SME myself), I find myself drawn back to the terminology that separates the beginner from the expert. That simple discussion helps focus the SME’s attention on the knowledge gap that we’re trying to address, and helps them think more critically about the resources being provided.

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