How to Design Effective & Engaging Content: Part 1: Consider Context

How to Create Effective & Engaging Content Pt. 1: Consider Context

Welcome to the first of a seven part series on how to develop effective and engaging content! While I’ll be speaking here from more of an educator’s perspective, many of the broader points could apply outside of the classroom too.

The truth is is that people interact with A LOT of content everyday, and it’s only getting faster. So what can we do, in that limited time we have people’s attention, to make the most of the moment?

That’s what this series is all about!

Let’s get to it.


There’s nothing more frustrating than being dropped into the middle of a movie or TV show — to borrow a metaphor — and then get zero follow up on what happened and why. Context matters. Let’s take a quick look at two questions we need to ask ourselves and how they can transform what we create.

First, does our content immerse learners in the world under study?

Content needs to make students feel as if they “were there”. Again, while this can’t be done for everything we do in the classroom, the more the better! The good news is that this can be done in any content area from biology to history. Here’s a couple of recommendations on how to do this:

  1. Create a problem / solution setup. PBL (Problem Based Learning) lends itself really well to positioning students at the center of the action by “discovering” or “solving” issues. This is especially true in mathematics and science-related disciplines, where students can authentically arrive at learning.
  2. Bombard students with sources. When I have students study the topic of conformity in the 1950’s, for instance, they get a wide variety of topics to study, all of which help set them in the “mindset” of the times. Take a look at how I did this below:
Click picture to access slides.

Secondly, does the content take our audience into account?

Our students have to be met where they are, and that can range widely. Carol Ann Tomlinson, who’s written countless books on this topic (called differentiation, if you want to learn more), gives educators a few areas of how to do so:

  • Process: How students learn or interact with information.
  • Product: What students do/make to demonstrate their learning.
  • Readiness: Student’s prior knowledge or skills.
  • Preference: What students choose to do.
  • Content: What students learn.
  • Environment: The setup where students learn.

Remember, addressing all of these simultaneously areas of differentiation is impossible, but taking some time to think about the few that matters most can pay some serious dividends. Not only are you showing that you care about your students’ needs, you’re taking steps to get them to where you want them to go. That matters for engagement, and ultimately, learning.

So how do you create content that considers your learners’ context?

Leave a comment below and share your ideas.


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