It is not that unusual for the content designer also to be the subject expert. After all, many teachers and trainers started their careers by practising what they now preach. If not, then they certainly will have picked up a lot of expert knowledge over years of teaching. Being your own SME has one major benefit and one big drawback.
The benefit is that you have no-one to create a relationship with (assuming you’re feeling OK about yourself) and no-one to question. You can get straight on with the job of design.
The problem is that even teachers (some might say especially) suffer from the curse of knowledge. This means you have to display more than a little self-awareness and exercise a great deal of self-control.
A few years back, an informal community of instructional designers set about developing a guide for those people who were asked to get involved in design but for whom design was certainly not their principle activity (SMEs for example). The project was called The 30-minute masters, on the basis that 30 minutes was all the time a non-specialist would want to spend learning about design. By the time all the ideas were gathered and the curriculum finalised the project had to be renamed The 60-minute masters. So, even design experts find it hard knowing when to stop.
Perhaps it would be better if we left subject experts out of the equation altogether. As Jane Bozarth commented in her post Nuts and Bolts: Working With Subject Matter Experts: “The better choice isn’t always the most experienced worker, but the most recently competent one: that newer person who remembers what it was like not to know how to do a task, who remembers having to learn and what that entailed.”
There’s a thought.
First published in Inside Learning Technologies, November 2011