Best questions to ask your SME for effective learning

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Learning is only as good as the questions you ask your subject matter experts (SMEs). If you don’t ask the right questions, how will you get the answers you need to help your people achieve your business goals?

In 2023, Elucidat cited just under half L&D teams were looking to collaborate with their internal experts to create content. Fosway’s Digital Learning Realities 2022 also states over 50% teams plan to extend their digital learning resources by upskilling SMEs and internal talent.

Experts are being brought to the forefront of learning strategies. Not only will asking the best SME questions help you create effective learning resources, collaborating with your experts could also turn them into content creators and help them develop their own skills in the process. And with demand for learning at an all time high and budgets low, now is the time to make the most impact with your approach to SME interview questions.


How do you communicate with subject matter experts?

Before you begin composing your elearning SME questions, it’s diligent to make sure your communication strategy is effective. This will give your experts the information they need which in turn will help you get the valuable content your learners need.

These best practice guidelines will help you effectively communicate with your SMEs:

Clearly define purpose: One of the most important aspects of communication because being clear on why something matters increases engagement and impact. It helps people understand the reason for doing something, and the benefits in the context of their organisation and role.

Provide context: Help your experts understand the specific problem or topic at hand so they can provide relevant insights or solutions to your training SME questions. Without context a number of problems will arise in your learning experiences:

How to spot when context is missing:<br />
- People don’t care about learning<br />
- Retention issues<br />
- Generic content won’t deliver<br />
- Empty seats on programmes<br />
- Struggle to show impact

Maintain regular communication: Keep consistent contact with subject matter experts. Whether it’s scheduled meetings, check-ins, progress updates or nudges. Regular communication keeps people engaged and informed.

Be flexible / respectful of their time: People are busy. Communicate timescales from the outset and offer them ways to contribute when and where it’s convenient to them if possible.

Foster a collaborative environment: This is important if you’re to make your subject matter experts feel valued and comfortable sharing their expertise.

Provide feedback and recognition: Acknowledge their expertise and efforts publicly or privately, depending on context. If people feel recognised and see the impact of their input they’re more likely to stay engaged and you’ll build an even stronger rapport.

Remember: This is a two-way process. It’s important to actively listen and be responsive to the input and feedback provided by your SMEs.

By baking best practice into your processes, your learning SME questions will do the heavy lifting, naturally guiding your people to share what’s relevant.

What skills do subject matter experts need to share knowledge?

According to Harvard researchers, 82% of people struggle to codify their experiences. Most people lack confidence when it comes to sharing expertise, especially at work – not everyone sees themselves as an SME. But with the right skills and guidance, people will overcome this fear and share valuable content by answering your learning SME interview questions.

With roles in learning changing and the co-creation of learning resources becoming the norm, the skills SMEs need are adapting too. Here are six typical skills a subject matter expert needs to share their knowledge:


Expertise in their field

An obvious but critical skill. They should possess a comprehensive understanding of concepts, theories, practices, and trends relevant to their area of expertise. Ideally, your target SME will also have experience on how their area of expertise is used in your organisation. This contributes to ‘context’, brings the topic to life with real examples and helps learners understand this is ‘how we do things around here’.



Effective communication skills are crucial for SMEs. They need to be able to articulate concepts in a clear and concise manner. These skills may also include the ability to explain technical or specialised information in a way that is understandable to non-experts.



A critical understanding of their own practice means your SMEs will be able to codify what they’ve learned to share with others and help them improve their own practice too.


Problem-solving and critical thinking

These skills enable them to analyse complex issues and help them identify knowledge gaps and performance challenges based on all the information available. What they share will then help co-workers find solutions and develop new insights.


Collaboration and teamwork

Working closely with teams around the organisation means collaboration and teamwork skills are crucial. It helps foster a positive learning environment, encourages knowledge sharing, and leverages collective expertise.



Storytelling is the golden thread of learning and growth. Stories are memorable and help us connect with any subject matter. But crafting a strong narrative, whilst important, is a rare skill. They will likely need tools that offer the support and scaffolding to help them share these stories.

By possessing these skills, SMEs can effectively share their knowledge and experiences, contributing to the growth and development of their coworkers and promoting a culture of continuous learning within the organisation.

Co-creation methods, like structured video storytelling, will also allow your people to share relevant knowledge and experiences, create the content you need and develop vital future skills at the same time.

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Essential instructional design SME questions

When creating content, there are some essential learning interview questions SMEs need to answer for you to gain a solid understanding of what’s needed:

Who is the course aimed at? – Know your audience! Tailor communication and deliver content relevant to what they need, ultimately improving engagement and interaction with your course.

What’s your overall message? – This is the focal point of your content and serves as a good reminder to keep everyone on track throughout the journey.

What does the learner need to learn from this? – This goes back to our point about defining purpose and providing context. People need to understand the ‘why’ to know why it matters and know where they fit into your objective.

What material do you want to include? – Forming the basis of your content design, it will detail the topics to be covered and the order. It may also include the format it’s presented in: text-based, videos, quizzes etc.

These instructional design SME interview questions are a good start and will help to form the brief. However, SMEs traditionally want to share everything they know, which isn’t necessarily what your learners need. People require more guidance in order to streamline and zero in on what’s relevant to avoid content overload.

Many of our customers use video storytelling as a way to capture the in-depth knowledge and experience needed from their SMEs. To guide their experts into sharing something that’s concise and on-point, they use one of StoryTagger’s customisable templates.

Taken from our “Share your subject matter expertise” template, these questions help curate the most valuable information from your SMEs to use as stand alone resources or as part of a programme:

Part 1


Open with the headline or objective of what you’re going to share.

Highlight who this information is designed to help.

Why is it important?

Part 2

Core information

In what context will people need this knowledge?

Share the must-know information.

Describe any critical steps or elements.

Part 3

More detail

Share an example or scenario to illustrate the point.

Are there any watch-outs that will help people?

The most important thing to remember is…

Split into 3 simple parts, this template asks specific questions to narrow down the answers into bite-sized snippets. It takes the process a step further than the essential SME questions as you can use the SME’s responses as video content to include as well as information to direct the structure of your learning programme. Turning your SMEs into inspiring content creators in this way means L&D can achieve more with less resources and tick things off their ever increasing to-do list.

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Transform experts into inspiring content creators

Final thoughts

Asking your people the right SME learning questions is incredibly important to get the right learning content at the right time in front of the people who need it. Having the right skills is an important piece of the puzzle, but if you use a tool which includes templates, scaffolding and built-in support your experts will also develop and improve these skills as part of the creation process.

With more and more experts stepping up from an input to a creator role, SMEs need the right tools to guide them to share something that’s concise, on-point and valuable to the learner. A necessity to prevent learners from experiencing content overload. Tools like StoryTagger are designed to enable SMEs to simply transform what can be complex work experiences or expertise into ready-to-share video stories.

Speak to us about how StoryTagger can help your SMEs share the valuable knowledge you need. Book a demo.

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Why you need an intentional strategy for curating employee-generated content

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