Article: Is your content development ready?


One area that is often overlooked in estimating the time and effort to build learning experiences is the extent to which the learning content is ready to be developed as multimedia or for classroom use. There are differences of opinion and understanding depending on whether you are the subject matter expert (SME) or the instructional designer (ID). To facilitate that discussion, here’s a framework for estimating how ready your content is for learning development.

No Content

At this level there is nothing written down. The SME has the knowledge in their head and is regularly sharing bits of it on demand, mostly verbally. Small pieces of their knowledge can be distributed all over the place (email, phone calls, documents, verbal sharing in meetings…) – but there’s no document the ID can go to see all the content.

When the content is in this status, you can take a few actions:

  1. Have the ID do original research which the SME will review.
  2. The ID can interview the SME to draw out the knowledge and document it.
  3. Content can be licensed from a trusted source.

This process can take up to a month depending on the course length, depth, complexity and the availability of the SME. If the SME is not available, you could also attempt to locate and work with an outside SME.

Rough Content

At this level, the SME has identified topics they’d like to teach and has some content already built into a file that the ID can review. The ID will need to review the existing content and then interview the SME to fully understand the content to be taught and to determine the learning objectives and build out the full course content. This can take from a week to a month.

Ready for Instructional Design

The content consists of materials (documents, presentations, SME notes and support) that would allow an Instructional Designer previously unfamiliar with the content to suggest course goals and objectives as well as topic areas. Typical features of design ready content include that it is:

  • Complete with gaps in content identified.
  • Accurate, and approved by the course SME.
  • Mapped, at a high level, to learning goals and objectives.
  • Supported by electronic resources or job aids (documentation that can be reproduced as take-away content for part of the course).
  • Logically organized.

With design-ready content, Instructional Designers will be able to:

  • Define objectives for the course
  • Define lesson- or topic-sized areas of information
  • Suggest possible media treatments or presentation strategies

Ready for Development

This is content provided by the SME that also has complete Instructional Design work done. It can be brought into a multimedia development tool for final development (animations, simulations, audio).


If the subject matter expert is not familiar with instructional design, they may believe their content is development-ready when it might be design ready or even rough.  Having a diplomatic and informative conversation with the SME can help them understand the role of the ID in transforming their knowledge into engaging and easy-to-master learning experiences.