The Role of Subject Matter Experts in STEM Education


Kolabtree expert and STEM educator Michael Travers, M.App.Sc. B.App.Sc., Grad.Dip.Ed,  writes about the importance of subject matter experts in STEM education. 

The Age of STEM and the Pursuit of Knowledge

Of all human pursuits, the pursuit of knowledge, of lifelong learning, stands tall.  And of all the learnings and fields of endeavour of our age, the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) stand to empower the individual like never before.

Now is the time be a learner. The age of Work-From-Home, the epoch of eLearning, upskilling and pivoting in the workplace.

But more than this. It is the time in the sun for online learning content providers, universities, educators, education publishing companies, and the developers of online learning resources. These content providers include some that are huge in the online learning space or who are steeped in the history of STEM learning and others that are carving a niche in a burgeoning market. Providers such as:  Coursera, Edx, MIT OpenCourseWare, Outlier and Brilliant.

Notwithstanding the ravages of recent history to parts of the education sector, an education revolution is taking place and it is taking place at an unprecedented rate. One of the most popular and sort after learning content areas is that relating to the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (The STEM Fields).

With the world continually shifting to online and remote services and a workforce evolving with more and more skills specialisation, Learning Content providers are in demand and STEM learning content providers are at the forefront of that demand. Teachers and educators worldwide want access to the best possible resources for their schools and classrooms.

This is the age of STEM and all of humanity is in the pursuit of knowledge. As an educator you will want to be working in this field of STEM learning content provision and you will want to stand out from the crowd.

The importance of Learning Content Providers 

But as a provider of STEM learning content how can such providers stand out in an often-crowded marketplace? What sets one set of course materials or set of resources apart from another?

The difference is in the delivery, contextualisation and real world applied relevance of the teaching content. A topic that is delivered in such a way that it not only allows for the request skills acquisition but also draws on real world examples of current applications can give learners and experience. It is these experiences that help us as learners to retain and recall skills and techniques.

If content providers can give their clients a learning experience the outcomes will be more profound and more lasting and the benefits to industry more apparent. These positives will inevitably translate to return custom and a strong network effect which will flow back to the provider.

In order to provide contextual relevant learning experiences in the STEM Educators, Publishers and Content Providers excel when they draw on the knowledge of a Subject Matter Expert (SME).

Subject Matter Experts are passionate about their field, they know their content inside and out they’ve seen it from every angle and they can articulate the essence of their knowledge in a myriad of different ways. They can respond to questions and misconceptions, they can distil a topic to its essence and they can bring it to life in the eyes of their learners and that is what counts in achieving successful learning outcomes.

In the context of online learning content provision in the STEM fields it is hard to go past the opportunity to have a topic illuminated in near real time by someone who really knows their stuff. An applied mathematician, a molecular biologist or a formulation chemist can elucidate the topics of their field  simply, succinctly and with the authority of experience and applied knowledge. A Subject Matter Expert can save learning providers time and are in a position to foresee many of the challenges and pitfalls that learners may encounter as they engage in a new field.

Efficiency and the SME in the STEM context

The design and delivery of learning material is a resource intensive process. The mere task of scoping out the areas to be included in a particular unit can require a huge amount of research for someone not familiar with the field even if they are skilled course curators and have some knowledge of the field. This is even more so the case in the STEM where particular topics and areas can often seem to explode into complexity and diverge into a plethora of directions.

Benefits of working with a subject matter expert

  • A skilled SME with a clear brief can pair away at the vast pool of subject knowledge and extract the kernel of what needs to be covered.
  • Furthermore an SME is able to foresee the likely application of the learnings and avoid overloading content with unnecessary jargon and terminology.
  • The ability of an SME to place emphasis where emphasis is important and relevant is hard to surpass and this is before we get to the delivery of content in whatever form it takes
  • The efficiency dividend of including a Subject Matter Expert on a development project is huge and can save companies hours of project time but perhaps most importantly it can ensure that the material is targeted, relevant and up to date. This will result in a more compelling offering and a product that can be more readily aligned with the needs of clients, organisations and industry as they seek out their individual learning and training needs.

Working with a Subject Matter Expert when it comes to STEM content development and delivery is an investment in the now with the assurance that the content will be current, fresh and to the point. This investment in the now is also sure to bring returns in the future as it highlights the versatility, currency and adaptability of the provider. Never is this more true than in the fast evolving areas of the STEM fields.

Who are the STEM SMEs and How Can They be Supported?

If you are in the working in the areas of providing learning resources or course delivery in the STEM fields you may be well connected with experts and have a solid network of relevant Subject Matter Experts. But you may be surprised at the depth and range of passionate, talented experts that may able to contribute to your project.

Often times these highly qualified and specialised individuals by virtue of the fact that their work is so specialised find themselves operating on a project basis. Short term contracts, rolling contracts, freelance gigs and funded projects with finite timeframes. As such SMEs often find themselves essentially working as freelance contractors always on the lookout for new opportunities. This is particularly the case in STEM specialists involved in product R&D and early phase commercialisation where their skills are often called for. By the very virtue of such projects, a successful completion will result in conclusion or scaling right down of the commitment requirements of the STEM SME. That is a great time to capture the mind of someone who is hot with current industry state of the art skills and knowledge.

STEM educators would do well to build relationships with SMEs that can span across their project orientated roles. If conversations can be started it would result in content development that was uptodate, relevant and based on current best practice.

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Kolabtree provides the idea platform to connect STEM education organisations with SMEs for long- and short-term collaboration.

What can a Subject Matter Expert bring to your Project?

Practical and theoretical knowledge

Engaging a STEM SME can provide a link between theory and practice. These people are working in the field and can bring teaching to life through real world examples of applications of theoretical concepts and processes. These types of anecdotes make for a more engaging learning experience.

You will find amongst the many STEM SMEs here on Kolabtree, many of these people can provide a role model for clients and a vision of the possibilities in terms of types of post course projects and employment. These help to further incentivise learners and clients as they can see an example of the personification of the  future for their newly acquired skills. On Kolabtere you can access STEM SMEs including but not limited to:

Access to resources

Oftentimes working with a practicing STEM SME can lead to access to resources and facilities. This can provide the potential or at least open the possibility for demonstrations, photographs and current data for working examples. These synergies create efficiencies in course material design.

A STEM SME will be able to provide up to date guidance on selection of best practice tools, software and methods that are currently in use in the filed. This serves to keep content up to date and  means that clients are learning current and relevant skills.

As a practitioner in the field it is one thing to be across the current best practices but a STEM SME can also provide insight into the future directions and developments in a particular STEM field. This can inform Educators in terms of the future direction and trends that may be in demand.

Industry experience

With a STEM SME you will also gain access to a back catalogue of projects and experiences which will be relevant to the content and can be potentially leveraged to augment the quality of supplementary learning material in the form of sample data and projects.

We should not forget to mention the kudos that comes from serving content developed and or delivered by a practicing STEM SME.  Whilst the skills of a quality learning resource curator and learning and teaching expert are always required in the design of a course, having the content brought to life by someone in the field is always a big plus from the learner’s point of view.

STEM SMEs by Choice – The Best Kind

Not all Subject Matter Experts will be cut out to collaborate on STEM teaching and content delivery programs. That is why places such as Kolabtree act as a first pass filter.

SMEs essentially self-select for roles that best fit their skill set and the area they prefer to work in. If an SME who has a strong focus on communication and communication to a broad range of listeners as opposed to just those already immersed in the field will stand a much better chance of delivering engaging, contextualised and functional content that a learner can take on board.

Scanning SME profiles on Kolabtree will quickly highlight those who are disposed to communicating their knowledge to a wider audience. It is not for everyone and it is true that some experts prefer to stay within their field.

It could be argued that the skill of science communication is innate and to a certain extent that is true. However, science communication and explanation, teaching, mentoring and inspiring are skills that can be developed and many SMEs here on Kolabtree who are passionate about their area of expertise have also developed a passion for communicating the intricacies involved, the benefits, the positive aspects of working in the area.

These subtle personality traits of a good science communicator, the ability to share and impart enthusiasm, the ability to adapt delivery to the correct level of the reader, the ability to make delivery relevant and interesting yet still accessible to learners on any part of the learning cycle. These skills are what sets a STEM SME who can create engaging content apart.

Benefits of hiring subject matter experts on Kolabtree

There are many examples of excellent SMEs with amazing communication skills and content knowledge  on Kolabtree. Many of these are already actively contributing to the documentation and knowledge transfer of their specialised field. Some may well have the potential but have not yet considered the possibility.

This represents a huge opportunity for entities operating within STEM Education content delivery.

  • Firstly there is a ready-made pool of STEM SMEs who have self identified as having an interest in contributing to the education of future STEM SMEs.
  • Secondly, there is a massive untapped resource of SMEs who, with the right mentoring or guidance have a wealth of state-of-the-art knowledge ready to impart to the next generation of STEM specialists

Work with a STEM SME from Kolabtree on your Next Project

In conclusion, STEM SMEs can contribute so much to the design and delivery of content for use in STEM education. They are a group of people passionate about their field and highly skilled in their area of practice.

They are often ready and willing to share their passion and knowledge and contribute to the development of the next generation of STEM SMEs. And lastly, you can find them here on Kolabtree, a perfect blend of real work application and knowledge transfer.

Kolabtree helps businesses worldwide hire freelance scientists and industry experts on demand. Our freelancers have helped companies publish research papers, develop products, analyze data, and more. It only takes a minute to tell us what you need done and get quotes from experts for free.

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About Author

Ramya Sriram manages digital content and communications at Kolabtree (, the world's largest freelancing platform for scientists. She has over a decade of experience in publishing, advertising and digital content creation.

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