Using Improv Techniques to Improve Designer-Subject Matter Expert Relationships

Concurrent Session 2 & 3 (combined)
Streamed Session

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Brief Abstract

There are more instructional designers now than ever before. But their relationships with faculty and subject matter experts (SMEs) can be fraught with tension and confusion about roles and responsibilities. Designers will learn how to build bridges, ask the right questions and improve collaboration with their SMEs.


Penny has designed online courses since 1997. She is currently a senior instructional designer for the Penn State World Campus. Her research interests include student perspectives of quality and how this impacts the design practice; and the use of games and simulations in online instruction. She has presented at various regional, national, and international conferences and is currently chair of the Quality Matters Instructional Designers Association. She recently co-authored the book MindMeld: Micro-Collaboration between eLearning Designers and Instructor Experts with Jon Aleckson.

Extended Abstract

Instructional designers, especially those new to the profession, can have difficulty building relationships with faculty subject matter experts. Faculty may be confused about instructional designer roles and responsibilities or reluctant to work with a designer. Designers must be prepared to explain and demonstrate their value while being diplomatic and respectful of SMEs.

The target audience is instructional design practitioners who collaborate with subject matter experts.

Discussion points include:

  • Methods for reacting to surprising statements or having difficult conversations
  • Methods for building trust with faculty and SMEs
  • Methods for rephrasing and re-asking questions to get closer to the information or answer that is needed
  • Implementing a five-step model that encourages collaboration

These methods are important to the success of design practitioners, but often not taught in instructional design programs. It takes designers years of experience to develop strategies for dealing with difficult situations during the design and development process. With this career forum, I hope to share my experiences and strategies with new and less experienced designers. Strategies from Aleckson's model for collaboration between designers and SMEs will also be shared:

Improvisational exercises include the "Yes, and..." response strategy and the "Thank you" response to any gift - even those you wish you had not received.