Selecting instructional materials for a course can feel routine. Any subject matter expert already has a wealth of knowledge and research, but it is important to maintain a breadth of perspectives and stay up-to-date. It may seem natural to fill a course with readings, but students benefit from a course that has instructional materials that are varied, relevant, engaging, and accessible.

For more help selecting content for your course, visit the Smathers Libraries or request assistance from an instructional designer.

Best Practices

The most basic factor to consider in content selection is how each resource contributes to student learning. What knowledge, skills, or values do students need exposure to in order to meet the overall goals you’ve set for the course? If you have not set goals, it may be best to take a step back and think about the course as a whole before returning to instructional materials. What assessments will students complete? What information do they need to complete them? Focus on content that clearly connects course goals with assessments.  Additional resources that are outside the scope of the student learning objectives can be presented as supplemental content.

Next, it is important to consider how much time it will take students to comprehend the content. It will likely take a student longer to read a textbook chapter than it would take a professor with years of experience in that discipline [1]. The workload also needs to be balanced with how many assessments students will complete, what level the course is, and how many credit hours it is worth.

If content selection becomes challenging, or if an instructor simply wants another perspective, it is often beneficial to ask colleagues or subject specialist librarians for recommendations. Librarians stay on top of changes in the literature and new databases as they become available, so they can save you time and effort when looking for a specific type of content or just something you had not yet considered.

It is also helpful to consider varying the type of content to appeal to students with diverse needs and learning preferences [2]. Students who prefer reading will appreciate journal articles or a textbook, while others may be more interested in listening to a lecture or watching a documentary. Other students feel engaged by pictures, charts, and graphic organizers. One benefit of courses with an online component is the ability to utilize computer simulations or content that is interactive and allows the user to manipulate it in real time. Additionally, open educational resources can make it easy to find more options or to add more options without any additional cost. Another important concern is accessibility; selecting accessible content has the benefit of making the course more flexible for all students. To learn more about selecting accessible content, refer to Accessible UF.

Once course content has been fully fleshed out with appropriate instructional materials, it’s time to find a cohesive way to present the content to students. It is of course possible to assign readings, videos, or other content as the course progresses. An online or blended instructor might link to content in each course module, whereas an instructor for an in-person class can write assignments in the syllabus and remind students orally and in writing at the beginning or end of each class period. Another helpful way of organizing content is asking a librarian to make a guide for the course. A guide can house links and references to books, articles, videos, websites, and databases all on one website in addition to including research tips. Another option is to compile a course reserve with a librarian. This has the added benefit of taking concerns about accessibility and copyright off the instructor’s shoulders.

References and Additional Resources


[1] Barre, Elizabeth (2016). Rice Center for Teaching Excellence, “How Much Should We Assign? Estimating Out of Class Workload.”

[2] Kharb, Poonam et al (2013). US National Library of Medicine (NIH), “The Learning Styles and the Preferred Teaching-Learning Strategies of First Year Medical Students.

Further Exploration

Accessible UF

Universal Design for Learning Representation Guidelines