Developing learning materials

Some learning resources, such as textbooks, come already prepared. Others, such as reading lists, need some organization and explanation. Others still, like handouts or problem sheets, may require that you build them up completely from scratch. The final category – images and multimedia – may require specialized skill or help from experts to create.

In this chapter we will review some of the major considerations in developing each of these types of material. As you consider each of these areas, think about:

  • What has helped you learn from each type of material? (For example, perhaps you preferred problem sets that are structured from easy to more difficult problems or liked to use self-check quizzes to consolidate your understanding.)
  • What do you think helps others learn? Remember, your educational history and learning preferences may be very different from those of your students. So find out as much as you can about your students and try to put yourself in their shoes in terms of experience and level. Use that information to guide the design of your resources: never lose sight of your audience. Simple examples include:
    • Using current cultural references in your examples rather than references from when you were a young adult
    • Making sure you use clear language and explain any terminology that may be obvious to you but new to students.
  • Which qualities enhance, and which hinder, the type and level of learning you want to promote in your discipline? For example, a business textbook may encourage students to believe there is one correct answer when in practice there may be several or no correct answers. Anatomy may be made clear by a three-dimensional model but obscured in a text document.
  • What context will the resource be used in? For example, will students have access to other supporting materials to help them make sense of it?

Principles of design

The general principles of designing good learning materials may sound familiar, as they reflect a number of the key points to consider when selecting pre-existing materials to use.

Imagine, for example, that you want to reinforce student awareness of key terminology and so want to display some terms using PowerPoint Slides. You also want to highlight key questions for discussion or reflection in relation to each term. You will need to consider issues like relevance to the course, accessibility, motivation and so on.

In the activity below, consider how each question might apply to PowerPoint slides in particular, and flip the cards to view some ideas.

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These basic principles of good learning design apply to all resource types:

  • Intellectual role and relevance to course learning outcomes
  • Accessibility for those with disabilities
  • Clarity of communication visually and in text
  • Engaging your particular students
  • Utilising whatever help is available.

File formats and accessibility

One other question that will arise frequently when designing materials that will be delivered electronically is what document type to use for the files. In all questions, accessibility is a primary criterion. For documents that are primarily text, you must balance the need to produce an attractively formatted and appealing document against the need to provide a reasonable file size and type that is accessible to people with disabilities using specialized software.

In addition, you will need to consider whether the file format will be readable across different computer platforms and what types of formatting styles are available. The table below evaluates some options for electronic documents – click on the checks and crosses for more information.

Talk with your campus experts to determine the best option for your situation. And remember this analysis only covers text documents. To be fully accessible, make sure you:

  • Always provide descriptions for any images or graphics you have used
  • Include headings for columns and for rows in tables.