How can you write a course on something you know nothing about?

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

When I explain to people what I do for work, I often get a lot of blank stares. First comes the... "Instructional Designer? What's that?" Then comes the, "You develop courses? What kind of courses?" ... "Any kind?" Blank stare.

But you're not an expert in that...

I get it. I know what you're thinking: "But you're not an expert in that...How can you write a course on something you know nothing about?" The thing about Instructional Designers is in the title itself - we design instruction. A.k.a. training, learning, whatever you want to call it. Our specialty is in the principles and science behind how people learn best. So we take your content and put it in a format that people can digest it and remember it.

But still, you don't know the topic.

True. And that's actually what makes us good at what we do. When we know nothing about the topic, we ask the questions that experts don't think of. Their heads are in it so much that they see everything from a high level, often explaining things in terms others don't understand. We're able to look at the content through a fresh set of eyes, with a new and unique perspective, and put it in terms that make it simple for others to wrap their heads around. I like to tell people, "Basically, we dumb it down so it's easy for people to understand."

So how do you do that?

That's where Subject Matter Experts, or SMEs, come in. At the beginning of a project, we'll ask the experts on the topic to send over any materials they have on the topic. Then we do a lot of research. A lot. We'll go through the content and compile a list of questions. We'll meet with the SMEs to pick their brains. We'll ask them to explain the topic to us and discuss the questions we've compiled. At the end of the meeting (or sometimes meetingS), we should have enough information to write up a rough design of the learning strategy. This includes the topics to cover, flow of the course, and types of learning activities. We'll ask the SMEs to help us write scenarios to include in the course to make it relevant for the learner, and we'll use those scenarios as we build out the learning activities. As we develop the course, we continue to work closely with the SMEs to ensure we're delivering accurate content, and to answer any additional questions that come up as we dive deeper into the topic.

So there you have it - that's how we create courses on topics we know absolutely nothing about! If you have a course you're working on and need some help, feel free to contact me. I can help you out with any Instructor-Led, virtual training or eLearning projects you've got in the works.