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Overcoming Challenges and Facilitating Success in Relationships Between IDs and SMEs

By: Vijay Bhandare | Jul 19, 2023

The relationship between instructional designers (IDs) and subject matter experts (SMEs) is critical to the development of effective and engaging instructional materials. However, this partnership can often be fraught with challenges that hinder the overall success of the instructional design process. In this blog post, we will explore the common issues that arise in the relationship between instructional designers and SMEs, and propose effective solutions to overcome them.

Before diving deep, let us discover some of the prime challenges which hamper the collaborative relations between instructional designers and subject matter experts.

1. Diverse perspectives:
One of the main challenges in the relationship between instructional designers and SMEs stems from their different areas of expertise and perspectives. Instructional designers bring their knowledge of pedagogy, learning theories, and instructional strategies, while SMEs have deep domain expertise. Bridging this gap in perspectives is crucial for successful collaboration.

2. Communication breakdown:
Effective communication is the cornerstone of any collaboration. However, miscommunication and a lack of clear understanding between instructional designers and SMEs can lead to delays, errors, and misunderstandings in the instructional design process.

3. Time constraints:
Both instructional designers and SMEs often work under time constraints. It might be owing to the individual set of priorities apart from usual instructional design or content creation work. This can lead to rushed decisions, inadequate feedback, and compromises in the quality of instructional materials.

Here are the solutions that can help promote productive collaboration between IDs and SMEs:

1. Establish mutual respect
Building a foundation of mutual respect is essential for a successful working relationship. Both instructional designers and SMEs should recognize and value each other's expertise and acknowledge that their collaboration is integral to creating effective learning experiences.

2. Clear and open lines of communication:
Establishing clear and open lines of communication is crucial to overcoming misunderstandings. Regular meetings, both in person and virtually, can help bridge the gap in perspectives and allow for the exchange of ideas. Implementing project management tools, such as shared document platforms and task-tracking systems, can further enhance communication and collaboration.

3. Collaborative planning and decision-making:
Involving both instructional designers and SMEs in the planning and decision-making process from the outset can lead to better outcomes. By combining the expertise of instructional designers and SMEs, decisions can be made together that take into account both pedagogical considerations and subject matter nuances. As the American author Margaret J. Wheatley said, "Collaboration is not about gluing together existing egos. It's about the ideas that never existed until everyone entered the room".

4. Flexible time management:
Recognising and addressing time constraints is critical to effective collaboration. Allowing sufficient time for consultation, feedback and iterative design processes can help to ensure the development of high-quality materials.

By acknowledging the challenges and implementing the solutions outlined above, we can foster a collaborative environment that leverages the strengths of both instructional designers and SMEs. To conclude in the words of veteran instructional designer and author, Karl Kapp – ‘the instructional designer and the subject matter expert must work together to create an environment in which each can do their best work and ultimately create the best possible eLearning solution for the learners!'

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