Content and Materials

Selecting your learning materials is one of the most involved steps of designing your course. “Learning materials” are any elements of your course that convey information central to the course content. This can include readings (textbooks, articles, literature), lectures (whether delivered in-person, through livestreaming, or through prerecorded video), and multimedia components (images, videos, podcasts, simulations). The types of materials you select may vary based on the outcomes and modalities of your course.

The first thing to consider when selecting learning materials is your learning outcomes. In fact, selecting your learning materials is actually the last step of backward design for this exact reason. Each material—each article, video, or lecture—should be tied to a learning outcome. You should articulate why it is important that students read/watch/experience this material and how the information contained within each is relevant to what students need to be able to understand or do by the end of the semester. It is okay to be choosy with your selections; in fact, a course’s learning materials should be carefully curated and refined to best align with your learning outcomes.

Another consideration to make when curating your selection is diversity. This applies to both the medium of the learning material and the authorship. Universal Design for Learning best practices suggest offering multiple means of representation of the course content, so consider using a mix of materials that incorporate video, audio, reading, and interactive elements. When it comes to diversity, also consider where your learning materials come from. Be intentional about including resources from diverse backgrounds and voices.

Accessibility is another facet to consider, especially as it relates to digital resources (PDFs, websites, videos, etc.). While you may not have a student with a specific accommodation request in your class now, it’s a good idea to “future-proof” your class by ensuring that your learning materials are accessible. Plus, accessibility measures are often useful to other students that may not qualify for a formal accommodation. Sometimes ensuring accessibility is as simple as harnessing technology, like using OCR scanning on a PDF or adding machine-generated captions to a video. In other cases, a resource might not be able to be made accessible, due to constraints of the source material. If you find this to be true, you can work with one of our librarians to look for a suitable alternative.

Lastly, consider access (not to be confused with accessibility). Do any of your learning materials require students to purchase a book, license, or software? Are there alternatives out there that may be cheaper, or even free? There have been pushes in the world of higher education to increase the use of Open Educational Resources, or OERs—in fact, they are central one of our university’s 2021 strategic priority initiatives. The cost of education is often a huge barrier for students, especially for part-time and first-generation college students, and OERs help reduce this burden because they are free to use and publicly accessible (Florida Virtual Campus, 2018). You can learn more about OERs and see some examples here.