Search
Close this search box.

Balancing Subject Matter and Instructional Design Expertise to Create Effective Online Courses

Table of Contents

Introduction

The synergy between subject matter and instructional design expertise enhances the overall quality and impact of online courses. By combining these two areas of expertise together, course creators can offer comprehensive, accurate, relevant, well-structured, and engaging learning experiences that effectively convey knowledge, promote understanding, and empower learners to achieve their learning goals.

In this article, I share the critical components of each area of expertise and the level of knowledge required to create the most effective and successful online courses. I wrap up with a downloadable self-assessment to help you determine if you’re ready—both as a subject matter expert and as an instructional design expert—for online course creation.  

Subject Matter Expertise

Critical Components

If you want to create online courses, you need to be proficient in a field or subject matter. Subject matter expertise is critical to:

  • 1
    Design curriculum structures that cover essential topics.
  • 2
    Create accurate, relevant, and up-to-date content that’s aligned with the latest developments in their field.
  • 3
    Break down complex concepts into understandable terms, while providing in-depth explanations, insights, and real-world examples.
  • 4
    Encourage learners to engage in critical analysis, higher-order thinking, and practical application of knowledge. ​
  • 5
    Respond to advanced questions and inquiries, facilitate complex and nuanced discussions, and provided guidance to help learners reach a higher level of expertise.​
  • 6
    Introduce learners to the latest trends, research, and innovations in their field.​
  • 7
    Establish credibility and trust with learners.

Required Level of Expertise

If you want to share your subject matter knowledge with others, you must have the required level of expertise to be successful. The required expertise level can vary depending on several factors, such as the target audience and the training goals. Check out From Novice to Master: Navigating 6 Levels of Expertise in Course Creation for a refresher on the different levels of expertise.

🛑 Novice and Beginner

Readiness

Likely will not be able to effectively teach a subject, especially at higher or continuing education levels or for advanced topics.

Reason

They lack the comprehensive understanding and depth of knowledge needed to address complex questions and provide in-depth explanations and examples.

⚠️ Intermediate

Readiness

May be able to teach introductory or foundational levels.

Reason

They can explain core concepts, guide basic exercises, and provide context for further learning. They still lack the knowledge and skills to provide in-depth explanations and navigate complex concepts.

🟢 Advanced

Readiness

Prepared to teach subjects beyond introductory levels.

Reason

They can provide more in-depth explanations, address challenging questions, and facilitate conversations on complex topics.

🌟 Expert/Master

Readiness

Able to teach advanced and specialized courses.

Reason

They can offer nuanced insights from their education and experiences, guide independent research and discovery, and mentor learners in advanced projects or goals.

Instructional Design Expertise

Critical Components

To deliver your subject matter expertise effectively, you must also excel at instructional design. Instructional design expertise is necessary to:

  • 1
    Identify the needs of learners.
  • 2
    Define clear, measurable, and achievable learning objectives to give learners confidence and a sense of direction throughout the course.
  • 3
    Structure content in a logical and engaging manner to facilitate a smooth learning experience.
  • 4
    Incorporate interactive elements that encourage active learning, such as discussions, simulations, and assignments.
  • 5
    Create assessments to measure comprehension and provide feedback for improvement.
  • 6
    Optimize the learning process to support better comprehension, retention, and knowledge application.
  • 7
    Design learning experiences that motivate learners and promote engagement and completion.
  • 8
    Adapt course materials and facilitation to personalize learning.
  • 9
    Create a user-friendly and intuitive experience in a learning platform.
  • 10
    Use technology to enhance learning experiences and the learning environment.

Required Level of Expertise

What you can achieve in your online course varies based on your proficiency in instructional design principles and methodologies.

🛑 Novice and Beginner

Readiness

Likely struggle to effectively convey their knowledge to learners.

Reason

They may have difficulty structuring lessons, creating engaging and useful learning materials, or using effective teaching or facilitation strategies.

⚠️ Intermediate

Readiness

May be able to create instructional materials translated from subject matter expertise, but they’re unlikely to be focused and refined.

Reason

They can interpret foundational or high-level subject matter concepts and organize them into broad course structures and incorporate basic learning techniques.

🟢 Advanced

Readiness

Able to design more meaningful learning experiences that align with their subject matter expertise.

Reason

They can implement different instructional methods that allow them to personalize the learning experience, assess performance and provide feedback, and leverage technology effectively.

🌟 Expert/Master

Readiness

Well-equipped to create exceptional learning environments.

Reason

They can design innovative courses that cultivate critical thinking, employ advanced assessment strategies like adaptive learning, and level-up active learning strategies.

[DOWNLOAD] Course Creation Expertise: Self-Assessment

To quickly recap, successful course creation requires proficiency in at least two areas of expertise–subject matter expertise and instructional design expertise. There are many other areas that independent course creators may need to develop proficiency in to successful run an online course business, like marketing, customer service, project management, and other business acumen topics. Some of the knowledge and skills needed in these areas can be developed through experience and trial and error. At the core, everyone must have a growth mindset and a commitment to ongoing learning and development.

To help you get started on your course creation journey, I created a self-assessment to help you evaluate your baseline level of expertise. Spend some time reflecting on the questions and thinking about where you’re at today and what you need to do to get where you want to go. I hope you find it to be a helpful exercise.

SHARE THIS POST