Aarhus University Seal

Selection of content


In many degree programmes and courses there is more relevant content than can be taught.  There is a large amount of academic content which seems absolutely fundamental for acquiring the desired academic competences and which conveys knowledge that everyone in the academic field should have.  Too much material may result in inappropriate study strategies, which means that the teacher must make some active selection and deselection choices regarding academic content, for instance prioritise content that may serve as an example.  

Fundamental content

The question regarding teaching content is a key issue when designing degree programmes and teaching activities.  In almost all degree programmes there is content in the shape of topics, positions or problems which any student should know and which it is therefore imperative to introduce in the courses.  It is also a common issue in all degree programmes that there is too much content; i.e. there is much more valuable and fundamental content than can in any way be taught. Teachers must therefore have the courage to select and deselect academic content rather than attempting to cover as much as possible.


The effect of too much material

Too much material may lead to study strategies characterised as what we know as “superficial learning”, which describes the phenomenon that students try to remember as much as possible (matter), but do not succeed in relating the content to the purpose of acquiring this knowledge (meaning).  For the students, this results in what we might call encyclopaedic knowledge rather than functional knowledge, i.e. knowledge that may be used in new contexts  Therefore, it is important to not only select content carefully, but also to make it clear to the students what the purpose of the selected content is and why they should spend time and energy on relating to and learning this specific content.  In other words, communicating the meaning of the content.


The exemplary principle

In order to accommodate the situation of too much material, you as a teacher may take the exemplary principle as your point of departure. The exemplary principle does not focus, in terms on didactics, on the content itself, but on the shaping of the student’s ways of thinking and acting, which is made possible through their work with the content.  Both discipline-specific analytical skills and more general competences, which may be acquired through the processing of academic content, may be aimed for.  The key task in the choice of exemplary content is to identify the so-called exemplaries. Exemplaries are themes, positions or issues which contribute to conveying content to the students, and the meaning of which extends beyond the example itself.  In other words, they are concrete and may for instance be based on specific issues, but they are also general and relate to general academic themes.  


Teachers should ask themselves the following questions:

When you, as a teacher, are to select the academic content, you should consider what should be the theme, who the theme should be directed towards, and when the concrete content should be introduced to the students.  When selecting the academic content, you may therefore consider:

  • What would be meaningful to deselect so that you avoid too much material and make sure the fundamental material receives the most attention?
  • Which exemplary examples can be used to make the academic field concrete?
  • Which academic prerequisites are present in the students, and how does the content correspond to these?
  • Do the students have special interests that should be considered when selecting the content?
  • Is it relevant to include the most recent research?
  • What are the employers’ wishes regarding the students’ skills and competences, and could you accommodate these in the course?
  • How does the academic content fit in as part of the degree programme in general?


    Examples of Practice

      Further Reading

      • Keiding, T. B., & Hansen, J. D. (2012). Teaching content  ― the stepchild of university didactics [Undervisningens indhold ― universitetsdidaktikkens stedbarn] Danish Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 7(13), 105-119.
      • Klafki, W. (1983). Categorical formation. Contribution to a formation theoretical interpretation of modern didactics. In S. E. Nordenbo (ed.), Categorial formation and critical constructive pedagogics [Kategorial dannelse og kritisk konstruktiv pædagogik]: Selected articles (pp. 33 to 72. Copenhagen: Nyt Nordisk forlag publishers.
      • Klafki, W. (2000). Didactic analysis as the core of Preparation of Instruction.  In I. Westbury, S. T. Hopmann, & k. Riquarts (eds.), Teaching as Reflective Practice. The German Didactics Tradition (pp. 139 to 159. London: Lawrence Erlbaum.
      • Ulriksen, L. (2014). Good teaching in higher education. A research-based manual. [God undervisning på de videregående uddannelser. En forskningsbaseret brugsbog]. Frederiksberg, DK: Frydenlund.

      Links and materials


      Please contact the editors at AU Educate if you have any questions about the content of the platform or if you need consultation on your teaching from one of the many skilled professionals at the Centre for Educational Development