Suitable Content Selection/alx

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Suitable Content Selection
Contributors Christian Köppe, Joost Schalken-Pinkster
Last modification May 16, 2017
Source Köppe and Schalken-Pinkster (2015)[1]
Pattern formats OPR Alexandrian
Learning domain
Suitable Content Selection-alx.png

The learning objectives of a course and the content to be covered have been described and you want to — or have to— use lectures as one of the teaching activities.


Lectures often do not fit the capabilities and interests of students, they are either boring or overwhelming. In both cases students won’t remember much after the lecture, therefore it was of no value for them.

There are three forces that act as follows:

Information overkill. Many lecturers think that they have to give all information during their lectures, trying to not missing even the smallest details. This is often the result of the systems approach to teaching: Dividing the complete subject to-be-learned into smaller sub-parts and presenting these piece by piece. However, this approach fails to appreciate that students are able to study detailed pieces of information themselves, if they have been guided through the theory.

Information underkill. Presenting content the students already know or taking too much time for presenting a small amount of content leads to bored students.

Content duplication. When students know that they can grasp the same content form another source — like the course syllabus or the accompanying book — they are likely to pay less attention to the teacher presenting this same content.


Therefore: Group the overall content of the course according to following criteria: can be adopted by the students themselves, needs to or could best be presented by a lecturer, or can be accomplished both ways. Select for your lectures mainly the content that needs to or could best be presented by a lecturer and optionally broaden it with content that the students could also, but not mainly, adopt by themselves.

The first step that needs to be done is to identify the content and to determine whether it is suitable for self-study of the students or if it should be presented by a teacher.

The following checklist helps with identifying the content suitable for self-study:

—A good text book covering the content is available.

—The content belongs to factual knowledge[2] the students are required to know. However, the students should be pointed to that content in lectures and the reason why they should learn it can/should be communicated in a lecture.

If no text book is available, then you could consider writing a Manuscript (Manuscript)[3]yourself. To stimulate the acquisition of this knowledge one could apply Explore for Yourself (Explore for Yourself)[4]and have students study a topic on their own and present their findings afterwards.

The following checklist helps with identifying the content not suitable for self-study and therefore could be best covered in a lecture:

—The content covers interrelationships of elements of the conceptual knowledge the students are required to know.

—There are critical parts of the content, like decision points in a process or substantial ideas that form the background of the larger content. These critical parts should be included in the lecture content.

—General feedback on the students’ performance. The feedback, even if on single student performances, should always be relevant to the whole class, otherwise it should be given directly to the student outside of the lecture.

—Textbooks often only cover the technical or domain-specific aspects. But the content of a course often has much wider implications in society, economy, or organizations. Especially this Wider Perspective (Wider Perspective)[4]is good content for a lecture.

Examples serve different goals in lectures and are therefore important: they can provide orientation, help with making abstract concepts concrete, or help with showing dependencies between different concepts. Even though the material given to the students for self-study — books, manuscripts, tutorials on websites, etc. — also often contains examples, there is a chance that these examples are somewhat artificial or that they don’t match much with what the students need in future assignments or exams and are therefore not very relevant for them. It is therefore important to include examples as lecture content that serve the above mentioned goals. Patterns that help hereby (among others) are Acquaintance Examples (Acquaintance Examples)[5] or Relevant Examples (Relevant Examples)[3]. The content also forms the basis for Lecture Structuring (Lecture Structuring).

It is important to relate the new knowledge to already existing knowledge of the students, as described in many existing patterns (e.g. Linking Old to New (Linking Old to New)[4] or Expand the Known World (Expand the Known World)[4]). However, many textbooks only provide the new knowledge to be covered in a course, and therefore fail to fulfill this important function. This is not surprising as the authors of these textbooks often do not know about the background of the students and their existing knowledge.

Providing this relation as teacher is therefore suitable for teacher-assisted learning. This means that the lecture content should include some old knowledge, which is related to the new one, and the relations or links between them.

Presenting critical parts in a lecture could be based on Expose the Process (Expose the Process)[4], which describes that not only solutions to exercises or examples should be shown, but also the process of getting there (with an emphasis on the critical decision points).

The main topic of a lecture was performance improvements of a relational database, with the focus on the subtopics searching, joining and indexing. To understand this topic, some reactivation of existing knowledge was required: tables, primary keys, foreign keys, normalization and normal forms, and select-queries including joins between different database tables. This existing knowledge was also explicitly made part of the lecture content, but only at the level of knowing and not at the level of applying. It was also chosen to provide an overview of all the subtopics and making the relations between the existing knowledge and the new topic obvious. For this an analogy as ongoing example was chosen which covered all relevant aspects: a record collection.

It was chosen to not include certain content, as this can be acquired or reactivated by the students at the moment when they need to apply it. Examples of this content were: all specific normal forms; how to create tables, primary keys, foreign keys, or other database objects; how to use joins in select queries; etc.


  1. Köppe, C., & Schalken-Pinkster, J. (2015). Lecture design patterns: laying the foundation. In Proceedings of the 18th European Conference on Pattern Languages of Program (EuroPLoP 2013). New York:ACM.
  2. Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., & Bloom, B. S. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives. Allyn & Bacon.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Fricke, A., & Völter, M. (2000). SEMINARS: A Pedagogical Pattern Language about teaching seminars effectively. In Proceedings of the 5th European Conference on Pattern Languages of Programs (EuroPLoP 2000) (pp. 87-128). New York:ACM.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Bergin, J., Eckstein, J., Völter, M., Sipos, M., Wallingford, E., Marquardt, K., Chandler, J., Sharp, H., and Manns, M.L. (2012). Pedagogical patterns: advice for educators. Joseph Bergin Software Tools.
  5. Anthony, D. L. (1996). Patterns for classroom education. In Pattern languages of program design 2 (pp. 391-406). Addison-Wesley Longman Publishing Co., Inc..