[MUSIC] Hi, my name is Jason Mock, Assistant Director at the University of Illinois, Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. In the last 15 years or so, since I graduated from Illinois with my masters of education, I've worked with literally hundreds of subject matter experts or SMEs. In corporate, government and higher education spaces, subject matter experts are a key person in most instructional design projects. I'd like to share with you some of my experiences, working with SMEs, and what I have found helps make for a strong working relationship. But first, think about a time when you work together with one or more people to create something big. Maybe it was a project at work, a group presentation at school, or even a birthday party. Think specifically of a time when not everyone on the team contributed in a way or as much as you expected them to. In what ways did that disrupt the collaboration process? And how did that make you feel? Take a moment to think about that. An instructional designer, must work together with a subject matter expert and possibly other members of a broader team to develop the course, and that relationship between instructional designer and SME is key. So let's talk about how you can build a strong relationship with your SME. In most organizations, instructional designers have a clear list of tasks and services they can perform. Some organizations specifically want the instructional designer to handle certain tasks, in order to ensure quality, comply with regulations and so forth. Other organizations may put those same responsibilities on the SME, due to their staffing levels, business model, or otherwise, for example, in some organizations it's the responsibility of the SME to author quiz questions. While in other organizations, it's up to the instructional designer to handle that. It's very important for you and your SME to share a common understanding of what you are enabled or allowed to do. Problem is most subject matter experts aren't aware of what that list includes. Some SMEs may assume too much, putting pressure on you to do more than you are in a position to do. Well, other SMEs may try to take control of the process too much, not realizing what an instructional designer can offer, and possibly creating quality problems in the course that will upset people down the road. In order to avoid these complications, you need to understand your own role, what flexibility you do and do not have, and ensure your SME shares that same understanding. Be transparent, be upfront, tell them as early as possible, minimally, do this in the first meeting or two with the SME. Ideally, well before the project begins, perhaps even in the contract or some other agreement you may have with the subject matter expert, as I was just alluding to the power dynamic on the team can make a big difference on a project. As an instructional designer, you are not likely the subject matter experts supervisor, thus, you probably can't exert authority over the SME, and yet you really need their cooperation in order to do your job well. I have found it helpful to focus on increasing your influence with the subject matter expert, in absence of having authority over him or her. So, how do you develop influence? There's an interesting book, not specific to instructional design, entitled INFLUENCE WITHOUT AUTHOURITY by ALLAN COHEN and DAVID BRADFORD, that seeks to answer this question. The key the author's suggest, is to understand the needs of the person with whom you're working. Where are they coming from? What challenges are they trying to solve? What motivates them? With that understanding now articulate what you need, in the context of their needs, here's an example. You could say, Professor Smith, I need you to rewrite these assignment directions to be more clear, and that may be factually accurate, but that doesn't really motivate her to comply with your request. Try this instead, Professor Smith, I know you have very little spare time available, when you will later be teaching this course that we're now developing, while the assignment you've created will certainly help your students apply what you're teaching them. I'm concerned that the directions you've written are unclear, and many students may come back and ask for your time later to explain the assignment better. I have a few suggested changes here that may help, but please edit them or rewrite the directions yourself if you'd like. Notice that in the later example, how I've recognized that time is a scarce resource for Professor Smith, I've expressed concern for her situation when the course is being taught, while also looking out for the students. I've also gone a step further in trying to save Professor Smith time right now, by rewriting the directions myself, and in so doing perhaps modeled what better directions might look like for her. I did this while still empowering Professor Smith, to ultimately make the decision as that's the culture in my organization. This approach not only solves the problem of unclear assignment directions, but this interaction hopefully served to build trust, which is another important strategy when working with subject matter experts. Go out of your way to be trustworthy, this includes showing up on time for meetings, coming prepared, following through on any tasks you've agreed to complete, and be accurate on what you say. Another way to build trust, is to demonstrate your value. Back to an earlier point, state your value up front, tell the subject matter expert all that you can offer them, you offer experience, knowledge and time, at least some of which your subject matter expert does not have. Regarding your experience, let the SME know humbly your years of experience or the number of other similar projects you've already successfully handled, regarding your knowledge, helpfully answer any questions or concerns they may have. Cite data or research where you can, to give your answers more credibility. Regarding your time, don't just tell the SME what you can offer, actually do something that helps the SME early on in the process, perhaps that's organizing some files or redesigning a PowerPoint file to make it easier to read. One time, I helped a professor during a meeting solve an unrelated computer problem, which really helped him see the value I could bring him and trust me more. Think about this for a moment, what value do you bring? Don't worry if you don't have much instructional design experience yet. What are your related strengths? Are you an organized person, a good artist, a good listener? Your answer to this question will change over time. But if you were to meet a subject matter expert tomorrow, how would you answer it? Take a moment to think about that. When working with subject matter experts, it's also important to respect the value they bring to the relationship, an obvious example of this, is their subject matter expertise. A simple tip I've used many times, I've often asked an SME to teach me a topic or two. This helps me get a better sense of their teaching style, puts me in the context of a student and what their needs might be, while also giving the SME a chance to talk about something that they're passionate about, and most of them love doing that and I can bring them joy by giving them this opportunity. I also tried to make some sort of connection between the content they are teaching me and my own life. This helps the SME feel that I personally value what they are passionate about. Another important strategy is to use good communication skills. There are probably 1000s of resources out there on this, but I'll briefly summarize just a few in the context of working with an SME. First, be responsive for example, if you can't get to his SMEs email right away, acknowledge that you received it and when you hope to get back to their request. Second, be clear, don't leave room for misinterpretation. Third, be concise, respect the SMEs time, if you can say it in fewer words, do it. Fourth be accurate, avoid the temptation to earn respect by appearing that you know everything. That strategy will only come back to bite you later. On the whole, you will earn more respect by acknowledging that you don't know something, researching the question and coming back with the right answer. And finally, be direct. If you need something from the SME, ask for it and ask the SME to commit to you that they will provide it. This works even better if you do it in a public setting or in writing, so take another moment to examine yourself. Have you sent an email that seemed clear to you, but the recipient didn't understand part of it? Is there anything that you could have done to be more clear or concise? Self-reflection and choosing to improve, are important for several aspects of life, including enhancing your ability to work well with subject matter experts. I hope you found this helpful, as I've shared some of the strategies that have helped me through my instructional design career. Specifically, the importance of understanding your role, building trust, demonstrating your value while respecting the value of the subject matter expert brings, and using good communication skills. All of these will help you have greater influence with your SME, even if you don't have authority over them. I wish you the best on your journey to becoming an instructional designer or enhancing your current role as an instructional designer. This is a great field to work in.