How to Work with Subject Matter Experts to Improve Your Course
Collaborating with an expert can bring new insights and increase the value of your program.
No matter how well you know a subject, there will always be areas where another expert can offer new insight or knowledge. Or it may be that you prefer running the business side of your online course, but would like to leave the course creating side to someone else. Either way, bringing in a subject matter expert can add value to your course.
Examples for when to use a subject matter expert:
- Your business wants to create a new training course in a specialized subject.
- You have expertise in one aspect of your field, but your learners are requesting additional materials in related area where you are less well versed.
- You have a business model for online education, but you don’t want to create the content yourself.
- You want to partner with another well-known expert in your field.
Forming a working partnership with your expert isn’t something you can take for granted. In fact, it’s very similar to any coworker relationship, where you should expect a certain learning curve as you adjust to each other’s communication styles. If you’re interested in bringing on a subject matter expert to work with your course, here’s how to start.
1. Prepare an onboarding package.
Your subject matter expert needs to be brought up to speed on your program to understand what your business is, and who you’re trying to help. It doesn’t work to throw them into the deep end without preparation.
So, what does your subject matter expert need to know before they start working with your program?
For one, they need a thorough introduction to your business, your learners, and your goals. A course designed for professionals will include different scenarios and examples than one designed for private learners. You should also include information about your own company, including your values, your brand, and your business objectives.
2. Set clear objectives and establish roles.
It may be tempting to believe that your subject matter expert will know exactly how to create an online course. After all—they’re an expert! But the reality is, you may not realize how different your expectations are until after they’ve developed the course they thought you wanted. It’s not fair to you or the expert you’re partnering with to enter into a collaboration without a mutually-agreed-upon set of goals and standards.
Because of this, once you go through the onboarding stage, you should take time to thoroughly discuss the vision you have for the course. What do you expect it to cover, how will you measure success, and who will take point on various aspects of course management? Will you respond to student questions, or will they? Do you expect them to be involved on the running of the course after it launches? If so, how much time during the week do you expect them to spend on it?
Clearly, bringing someone on without establishing these expectations can quickly lead to disaster. Talk it through beforehand, and you can catch any areas of miscommunication before they become a problem.
3. Learn the subject matter yourself.
If you’ve brought in a subject matter expert, it’s because you believe they will bring something to your program that you couldn’t achieve alone. However, you also bring an important element to that partnership: your knowledge of your audience.
You begin your partnership by teaching your subject matter expert about your course, your learners, and your objectives so that they can better tailor their content to your needs. But you need to do the same in return: learn the material well enough to give useful feedback about what’s relevant to your learners.
Depending on your own knowledge level, you may be able to expand your knowledge with some research on your own. If you’re relatively unacquainted with the material, you could have your expert begin by teaching you the course matter. This will put you in a better position to understand how your learners will experience it, and can provide the experience you need to provide better feedback.
Remember, you goal here is not to become a subject matter expert yourself, but to know the material well enough to assess its quality.
4. Maintain clear channels of communication.
Problems arise unexpectedly all the time. Do yourself (and your new partner) a favor by establishing good communication practices early.
Talk to your expert about how they like to communicate, and be open about your own preferences. You may prefer to talk over the phone during business hours, while your subject matter expert prefers to send emails at any time of the day or night. You may be open to discussing a project over the weekend, while your partner wants to protect their personal time.
In short, you need to leave a door open while also setting boundaries.
5. Follow up after the first cohort of learners completes the course.
You successfully launch a new course with the help of your subject matter expert—congratulations! Don’t move on just yet. Your new course partner will surely want to know how well their course performed, and if you’re interested in maintaining the partnership in the future, you will want to discuss the results.
Schedule a time after the course completes to go over the results with your subject matter expert. Discuss the course itself, but also the partnership. Maybe there are other courses you want to develop in the future! Now’s a great time to discuss those plans.
Be willing to iterate.
Finally, don’t expect everything to go perfectly the first time. The expert you bring in to help on your course may know their own field through and through, but they may not create a course that fits your student base, or that is designed in a way that works well with your business model.
Because of this, it’s important to be ready to go through a few versions, both in the development stage, and after you’ve launched it. Like your own course material, expect it to evolve over time, and be ready to let that evolution happen in the real world, where user feedback can give you the data you need to move in the right direction.