Teachers and school administrators constantly look for fresh content to support their educational efforts.
Schools and districts have standards they follow to govern the use of materials with students. However, the standards being used are often not current or complete enough in today’s rapidly-changing educational universe. They typically don’t consider things like media presentation, content quality, ease of use, and other “softer” factors.
This article includes a comprehensive checklist of things content creators and publishers should consider when evaluating or developing educational materials. This list will ensure academic content is appropriate for the biggest possible audience. We’ve divided the list into broad areas like how it supports education, currency and accuracy, and format, then presented the individual attributes that support them.
Material supports learning objectives
At a minimum, content must support a defined learning purpose. Typically, resources must be evaluated for General Curriculum Outcomes (GCOs) and Specific Curriculum Outcomes (SCOs). That is table stakes.
Topics are appropriate for student needs
The content must support learning outcomes and provide adequate information for students to understand the topic.
The difficulty level is correct for the learner
Ensure concepts, visuals, vocabulary, and internal structure are developmentally appropriate and meaningful for all students the content is intended for.
- Readability is consistent with student grade level, including vocabulary, phrasing, and sentence length
- The length and sequencing of the piece are logical and appropriate for the intended ability levels
- It includes different levels of instruction for the full range of students that could encounter it
- Graphics, including photographs and drawings, are appropriate for the maturity, age, and developmental level of learners
- Graphics support the learning experience, not interrupt it
- Digital response mechanisms must be appropriate for — and understandable to — all intended students
- Fonts are readable by everyone across all devices
- Concepts are presented one at a time, at a concrete level, in the correct sequence for all audiences
Instructional goals and learner objectives are stated clearly
Understanding the purpose of a piece is critical to student success. Ensure this by checking the following:
- The purpose of the content is clear and understandable to students
- Whether the resource fulfills its intended purpose and meets learning objectives
- Purpose statements are explicit rather than inferred, concise, free of jargon, and unambiguous
- The information is accessible
The content supports a range of teaching and learning styles
The piece should provide flexibility by promoting the following:
- Teacher intervention
- Student contributions
- Cooperative education
- Discovery learning
- Collaborative teaching
- Concrete and abstract learning
- Oral, written, and multi-sensory experiences
The piece promotes active learning
The best academic content encourages:
- Critical thinking
- Group and independent decision making
- And more
The content allows students to work independently
The student should be allowed some measure of control over their exploration of the content. For example, the learner can:
- Choose the amount of material they consume
- Vary the time allowed for problem-solving and processing information
- Explore the content in their own way rather than be forced into linear learning
- Check for understanding at various points
The resource is appropriate for its purpose
The material provides a straightforward way to learn what must be learned.
The material is well-organized and structured
The order the information is presented in should be logical and appropriate to the subject and learning objectives. The content should have an order and consistency that makes it easy to move through the material.
- The table of contents must consistently present topics, sections, units, and other things
- Elements should be coordinated, including overview headlines, charts, graphics, and other visual organizers
- It must be easy to understand how supplemental elements fit in and tie to primary content
- Content should be accurately reflected in the table of contents, index, glossary, chapters, and topic titles
Material must be unified
The resource must hold together as a self-contained unit. Everything should contribute to its overall purpose.
Concepts are clearly introduced
The progression of the content is smooth and logical, with new concepts identified clearly and consistently.
Concepts are developed properly
Definitions, explanations, illustrations, and examples are available where necessary and are always relevant to what’s being explained:
- The content includes links to additional information or previously acquired relevant knowledge
- Examples or counter-examples are offered up
- Examples and supplementary materials are broken down into small digestible components
Concepts are summarized
A summary can come in many forms, including a chapter-ending list, synthesis activities, a post-lesson quiz, a handout, focused questions, and more.
Non-technical vocabulary is appropriate for the target audience
Review the content with an eye toward the following:
- The overall vocabulary load
- The level of concreteness or abstraction
- The reason for reading, listening or viewing
- The sophistication of the ideas presented
- The context
- Whether idiom and dialect are used to help or hinder understanding
- Support materials, including examples, illustrations, and glossaries
All technical or curriculum-related terms are introduced and clearly explained
Review the materials looking out for:
- Consistent presentation of novel concepts, such as putting them in boldface, explaining them, then providing illustrative examples
- Learner support such as glossaries, an index, advance organizers, and a post-lesson summary are included
Assessment tools are provided
The resource should include tools to monitor ongoing progress relative to the program’s objectives. It must recommend options to remediate poor performance and take positive results to the next level.
Content currency and accuracy
The content is current
Ensure the piece isn’t dated in its content, messaging, or visuals in a way that reduces its educational value or loses student trust, including:
- Hairstyles, fashions, family representation, fads, and more
- Information, including facts and statistics
- People representation, including racial diversity
The content is accurate
Check that content is accurate in all the following areas:
- Information included is the latest available
- No factual errors
- Statistics are used correctly
- Charts, graphs, and tables are accurate
- Percentages add up to one hundred
- Models, examples, and simulations are valid and complete
- No spelling or grammar errors
Appropriate support materials must be included
Assess whether support materials are available to contribute to helping students achieve the resource’s objectives. Support materials should include pre-instruction and follow-up content for students and valuable advice for teachers. Technical information is mandatory for digital resources to help ensure they run effectively.
The technical design is effective
Look for obvious errors that could turn off today’s learners, like unreadable text, blurry photos, muffled audio, or poor-quality video. Even if the content and methodology are excellent, learning resources with technical flaws should be avoided.
Words relate to visuals
Whatever is said or written in a piece must correspond to and support anything shown near it. Captions should be clear and relevant. Visuals must never interfere with reading or viewing.
Added educational benefits
The material presents regional information
If there is a local aspect to the topic, for instance, a scientific discovery that happened in your state or community, it’s a best practice to include the information.
Content includes real-world examples and experiences
Content that integrates personal, familiar, and culturally appropriate material is meaningful for students. You can make your content more engaging by:
- Using storytelling
- Incorporating real-world activities
- Adding hands-on experiences
Ensuring these things are present will make learning more real for students.
The resource encourages student engagement
Check that the content encourages learners to engage with it through:
- Variations in typefaces, formatting, and spacing
- Aids to accessibility like advance organizers and summaries
- Questions and statements that promote reflection
- Resources that attract attention and increase understanding
The content promotes the development of communication skills
Good educational content should include activities that encourage student self-expression and interaction, including:
- Newsletter writing
- Small group discussion
Activities should encourage consensus-building and the development of learning skills.
The content encourages group interaction
Good academic resources leverage group-based learning methods such as cross-ability groups and cooperative learning.
The resource promotes student creativity
Using the resource should encourage students to develop their own interpretations or solutions.
The content includes different academic subjects
The best educational resources include several subject areas to show how they interact and intersect. It demonstrates the value of the learning experience in the real world.
The content is presented in a fresh way
The resource takes a fresh approach to educating on a subject. Imagery, layout, presentation, pace, topics, suggested activities, and instructional design all serve to encourage interest in the material. Examples of innovation today include:
- Presenting educational content in an emotional and sensitive way
- Leaving students with a positive attitude toward the material and subject matter
- Allowing all prospective learners to see themselves in a piece
- Motivating — not forcing — students to learn
Follow-up activities are included
The material provides activities outside the main lessons (real-world when possible) that reiterate and extend the learning objectives and reinforce key points. The resource connects prior knowledge to the stated learning outcomes of each section. It helps learners find meaning in the content.
Content review: The bottom line
We don’t have to tell you that determining whether content is appropriate for use with students is a complex process. It’s not enough to identify compliant pieces that support a lesson plan. It’s also important to find pieces that optimize the learning process for all types of students.