"Since I started in the Learning and Development world, my favorite activity has been working with SMEs. Maybe it comes from my love of discovery and finding a good story."

So begins Michele B. Medved's collection of good stories, great tips, and an excellent, concise guide to the most important elements of working with subject matter experts (SMEs). In my opinion, her book belongs on every instructional developer's reference shelf.

A complete guide

This is a complete guide to the secrets and insights that Medved has collected from her own work and from others who have deep, practical understanding of specific areas when it comes to the use of technology. Much of the content has been previously published in her articles in Learning Solutions and other online publications where keeping up with changes and advancements is critical to success. She has also added previously unpublished content on "Working with SMEs in the Age of Urgency." Where the content is developed from other sources, the accreditation of the other authors is very clear and helpful.

Although much of the 43 pages of the book is aimed at newer learning professionals, there are also insights and best practices that more experienced instructional developers will find useful for solving the problems of 2022.

A to Z coverage

Medved begins with a thorough introduction to the role of the subject matter expert in eLearning design and development. She offers a summary of the development of meaningful online content to guide novices (and others) to performance of required skills from the knowledge of the SME.

As those who have traveled this path before are well aware, SMEs have a great deal of tacit knowledge, and they often need a bit of assistance to turn that into structured deliverables and collaboration with their colleagues. Where the SME has forgotten exactly how they learned what they know, eliciting this knowledge is the job of the instructional developer during interviews and conversations.

The content of the book that walks the reader through these conversations is summarized in a chart of the best practices involved. The chart is a "pre-organizer" of the rest of the book.

Interviewing and selecting SMEs

Medved offers tips on interviewing and selecting your SMEs, beginning with a typical SME profile that will help you understand the key concerns of SMEs and how their job duties interact (and can interfere) with their ability to serve as your team of experts. It is sometimes not an easy fit, so Medved provides a solid analysis of what you need to do to make the collaboration work.

Following that introduction are tips that illuminate the process of interviewing SME candidates. The first of these tips will make it easier for you to ask the questions you must ask. Interviewing experts can be intimidating, especially when the experts "outrank" you or are highly visible and important people in your organization. The next set of tips is just as important: How to respect the SMEs time and make the most of it, and how to ask good questions. This section is like having your own mentor or coach helping to formulate a good plan.

It is at this point, three-quarters of the way through the book, that Medved presents some outstanding advice on managing time and deliverables when working with SMEs. I don't believe you will find the equal of what Michele Medved provides here, and certainly not in as concise a format.

Furthermore, this part of her book contains the "save the day" tips: Getting a subject matter expert interview back on track. No matter how well you think you have prepared, interviews do sometimes fall into the proverbial rabbit hole! Medved provides four pages of best practices for dealing with a SME who turns out not to have the expertise needed, who fills up the time with "nice to know" (but irrelevant) tips, or who lacks the authority to make decisions about any other issues.

You need this book

No matter how many SMEs you have dealt with, you are going to find great value in The Guide to Working with Subject Matter Experts. Whether you are figuring out how to deal with an uncooperative SME, coaching someone else to do a better job working with an SME, or writing your own playbook for SME selection and interaction, this will be a valuable resource for you.

It has been said that a coach is one who has good answers for your questions, and a mentor has good questions for your answers. In either case, Michele Medved has you covered. In 43 pages you will be able to access and apply her lessons learned.

I highly recommend this book! It will lift you to star status and genius level results.

Reference information

Medved, Michele B. (2022) The Guide to Working With Subject Matter Experts (SMEs): Key strategies to bring expert knowledge to workplace learning. www.gopublished.com