Finding Great Subject Matter Experts

Published by Cathryn Mattimore
on Sep 20, 2019

Creating great learning experiences requires a partnership between subject matter experts (aka SMEs), including great teachers, and learning experience designers. Here at O’Donnell Learn we seek to find, hire, and work with premium subject matter experts to ensure the creation of the highest quality learning experiences. Our practices around recruiting and vetting SMEs have evolved throughout the years; in fact, they’re over 25 years in the making. Our network of over 1500 SMEs, from all over the country, partner with our 300+ learning experience designers, contributing their domain expertise. Without SMEs the development of these projects wouldn’t be possible, and therefore, ODL seeks to recruit and work with only the highest quality SMEs. Here’s a look into ODL’s SME recruiting process and insight into why we prioritize giving support to SMEs to ensure they’re successful in cultivating exceptional learning experience content.

When staffing a project, our first stop is the ODL database. This software houses all of the subject matter experts and freelancers ODL has worked with. Our database allows us to search by subject, rating, university affiliation, and many other filters that help generate candidates specific to each project’s unique needs. This tool is necessary in our recruiting process because it’s proven ideal to work with SMEs who have already demonstrated their abilities, shown their reliability, and are in alignment with ODL philosophies and culture. Most of the time, this tool will produce a list of vetted qualified SMEs which helps staff projects quickly and effectively.

If the project needs lie outside our database network, then we reach out to experts from colleges, universities, and industry, asking them to send resumes (if they are interested) and writing samples. When going through the collected resumes we look for indications that a candidate will work well with ODL’s culture which emphasizes creativity, collaboration, and the ability to think in terms of learner centricity. In addition, potential SMEs must show a mastery of their subject and align with the specific and unique qualifications necessary to complete each project.

Before hiring a SME to work with us, we ask them to complete a brief assignment on a tight deadline. For example, if the project needs to develop assessment items, we would request the SME to write several questions that align with the project’s style guidelines and format. We look for timeliness, mastery of the subject matter, adherence to style guidelines, and that all items are well written and concise. Requesting these samples enables us to weed out inadequate candidates and to hire the best SMEs to work with ODL.

After we begin working with SMEs, ODL provides the support necessary so that SMEs can create successful learning experiences and cultivate exceptional content. To facilitate this, we train on things like Google Docs, LMS systems, and scheduling programs and other technical tools. We are here to help and to offer guidance and support as needed. As a result, SMEs are able to bring their expertise and strengths to the project and worry less about things outside their speciality.

Working with SMEs has been a huge part of ODL’s DNA. We value and emphasize the importance of finding new qualified SMEs so that we can create the highest quality learning experiences. We also recognize areas in which SMEs might need assistance and are quick to lend a helping hand. O’Donnell Learn hopes to continue to discover more constructive ways to work with subject matter experts and to grow our network and database.


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