Who do you think has the upper hand when it comes to training:

the subject matter expert (SME) or the expert trainer?

Okay, let me change the question to be more specific,

Who do you think has the upper hand when it comes to


Experts have the experience base, the war stories including the “gotchas”, short cuts and successful “references”. Depending on the topic, this expert knowledge can be the most valuable part of a session. This knowledge may be something that a non-SME trainer would not posses (unless it was built into the courseware.)

For technical training, experts have the proficiency and intensive knowledge. Tim Pearson, technical trainer and consultant for Datatel, put it nicely,

“Without the SME portion, one finds that the time is not long before an experienced programmer or System Administrator sniffs out that [there is] an “id10t” is standing in the front of the room.”

So, for TECHNICAL training, beware! You may NEED a SME at the front of the room.

Let’s change the question again:

Who do you think has the upper hand when it comes to


As I have discussed in my previous post, some experts face a challenge. Many of them have spent a lot of time being experts. Some of them lost touch with what it was like to be a novice, apprentice or junior [fill in the blank]. Others have trouble relating to non-experts because they are so used to speaking in their own expert vocabulary:  they use their own language or short forms/acronyms. And some of them, do all of this much too quickly (i.e. some of them talk too quickly without visual aids… and for us visual people, it is easy to get lost.)

However, the real challenge is subject matter experts, if they have not been trained in instructional/course design, don’t know where or how to start to design the right material for their audience. They need a structure. They need a process. They need some tools to help. This is where instructional design or an instructional designer enters the equation.


The answers to these questions, of course, varies with each situation.  Yes, sometimes this depends on the abilities of the expert and other times it depends on what the content is or how advanced the training is.

While experts face a number of challenges in developing and delivering training, they have a number of advantages and may have the upper hand when it comes to being convincing, insightful and valuable.

The primarily challenge for subject matter experts may be in developing instructional material, if they have not been trained to do so. And that discussion is only a post away…


Flickr Creative Commons Image by Horia Varlan