The Changing Role of Content

Distributed, Ubiquitous, and Rapidly Evolving

In the aim of a learning design that fulfills disciplinary goals while also fostering the meta-outcomes known as 21st Century skills, the role of content also has to be reframed. It has to be reframed to adjust to how knowledge and expertise are being created and shared today. While the dissemination of disciplinary content has for decades been under the purview of educational institutions with the curation of the most specialized knowledge under the governance of higher education, this governance by higher education institutions as the keepers of knowledge, is now being significantly challenged by the increasingly ubiquitous distribution of content over the Internet.

“The Internet has revolutionized our information seeking habits. Our view is that there is nothing so special or unique about professional’s knowledge to suggest that some of it cannot be made easily accessible and understandable on an online basis” (Susskind & Susskind, 2015). Ubiquitous content that ranges from individual facts to entire courses are available online for free for anyone with equipment, bandwidth, and access to the Internet., a MOOC aggregator currently announces over 5000 openly available courses by dozens of MOOC provides in multiple modes of instruction spanning the disciplines. Moreover, disciplinary knowledge in many disciplines is evolving so rapidly (i.e.Information Technology Infrastructure, Artificial Intelligence, Data Science), that the content is outdated the moment the textbook is printed.

Knowledge Workers 

But it is not for the reason of ubiquitous access alone that content coverage can no longer remain the educational end goal. The more important reason for the role of content to change is so that the learner gains agency over the content in order to grapple with the challenges native to knowledge work: investigating, accessing, analyzing, evaluating, synthesizing, problem-solving, creating, etc. rather than remaining the passive consumer of pre-selected materials. This does not diminish the importance of disciplinary content, but it does require a shift in the role that content plays in the curriculum. Whereas in the past, the content was king, it now becomes the object for the learner to use and explore: a data point to connect to other points of inquiry. This shift in focus moves away from content coverage towards an emphasis on ideas, underlying processes, frameworks, and systems thinking. It moves away from teaching individual facts towards learning how to learn, how to research, discern, manage and synthesize information.

Teach Less, Learn More

This Teach Less, Learn More approach (Fogarty & Pete, 2010) does mean curbing the breadth of content coverage in favor of deep thinking about the content and its connections, but it does not have to place content into an adversary role with skill development. Both knowledge and skills are needed as “effective teaching involves students using skills to acquire knowledge”(Bellanca, p.ix). It does mean using the building blocks of disciplinary knowledge which reside on the lower level of the cognitive scale in application or analysis of an authentic task so that it takes learning to a higher level and fosters the metacognitive skills of the learner.


Bellanca, J. A. (Ed.). (2010). 21st century Skills: Rethinking how students learn. Solution Tree Press.

Fogarty, R., & Pete, B. M. (2010). The Singapore vision: Teach less, learn more. 21st century skills: Rethinking how students learn, 97-116.

Hokanson, B. (2010) Design beyond content: Changing the focus of educational technology; an examination of the role or the anti-role of content in educational technology.

Perrin, D.G. (2007). Content is King? International Journal of Technology & Distance Learning, 1-3.

Susskind, R., & Susskind, D. (2015). The future of the professions: How technology will transform the work of human experts. Oxford University Press, USA.