If you are a business leader, or training manager, requesting training be produced, or scheduled for a particular topic, the ID will often ask, “is there any existing content?” And as a training manager or business leader your response may be, “No. There currently aren’t any courses on the topic. That’s why we need you to create them.” This is where the semantics of the training industry can cause problems.
When an ID asks for existing content they are asking for any media that currently exists on the topic. The content can be anything like books on the subject, current product specification documents, recent powerpoint files, photographs, articles, and the information trapped inside the head of the subject matter expert. And yes, it can also mean existing or older courses that have already been created. To the instructional designer, all that other stuff is all content they can use to learn how best to design, develop, and deliver and training solution that will meet the required objectives.
One of the best parts about being an instructional designer is that you get to learn new things all the time. A good, experienced, designer will be very good at consuming lots of content, and begin formulating some assumptions based on that content. A picture will begin to form in their mind and usually have some gaps. The gaps are filled by interviewing subject matter experts. The idea is to learn as much as you can BEFORE you engage a subject matter expert, and make the best use of your time with them. This may be a small thing, but should be respected as a good business decision. Subject matter experts are often highly paid professionals who provide value when they are working to solve business problems. It’s important that they spend time mentoring others, but that time should be limited not expanded. So, as a training leader you should support and encourage every effort made by your team to minimize business impact with limited disruptions to the business when seeking the content they need.