More Content Doesn’t Equal More Learning

With access to a world of information as close as our phones, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all there is to teach. New material continues to emerge in every academic discipline, and teachers feel a tremendous responsibility not only to stay current themselves, but to ensure that their learners are up to date on the most recent findings. Add to this information explosion the passionate desire by faculty members to share their particular areas of expertise and it’s easy to see why content continues to grow like the mythical Hydra of Greek legend. And like Hercules, who with each effort to cut off one of Hydra’s nine heads only to have two more grow in its place, faculty struggle to tame their content monsters.
The two most common strategies for managing course content rarely yield positive results. Cutting back or trimming content leads to agonizing decisions but does not produce substantive changes. Adding content to an already jam-packed syllabus puts us in a race to the course finish line—talking a mile a minute and leaving exhausted students in the dust. Learners in these scenarios liken the experience to trying to drink water from a fire hose. Hoarse, exhausted faculty and drowned, resentful students are not representative of the type of deep and meaningful learning that most of us aspire to.
Perhaps it’s time to rethink the role of content in teaching and learning. A fresh perspective on this problem includes thinking about our role …