The Different Hats of Course Development: SMEs and IDs

Many factors result in new curriculum development processes in educational institutions. To name a few:

  • Stricter regulations and legislation require institutions to exercise and document the effectiveness of the education they offer in different ways than in the past.
  • The rise in online education and data analytics trends require that student learning outcomes are more concrete and measurable.
  • Many institutions are moving from employing full-time faculty to a mostly adjunct faculty to lower labor costs and improve faculty to student ratios, among other reasons.

As a result, in online education especially, there is movement towards pairing a Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) with Instructional Designers (IDs) to develop courses.

This collaboration hopefully results in courses robust in engaging content and interactive delivery. However, the roles in this type of development are often unclear, leading to questions of who is responsible for what.

So what are guidelines for the roles?

The SME is tasked with developing content that provides a strong foundation in the subject area. Experience in education is made less necessary because that is what the ID brings to the table, allowing educational institutions to hire real professionals who can provide perspective from the field. Once the content base is in place, the chosen instructor can then decide how to add his/her particular style and experience to enhance the student experience.

The ID is tasked with ensuring that competency and outcome alignment requirements are in place, assisting the SME in developing engaging delivery methods for the course, and organizing the technical back-end work such as building the course in the LMS or assisting in the creation of interactive materials for delivery. The ID can focus on the science of learning design, and not the actual subject-matter content, because the latter is the SME’s responsibility.

The emergence of this structure for development is still undergoing growing pains, as is education as a whole. These roles can even, sometimes, blur a bit, but this blurring can result in great brainstorming. In any case, with a good pairing, SMEs and IDs can be great assets to each other in developing exceptional courses for students.

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