How Much Content to Cover?

The Best Choice...according to the experts

National Institute for Science Education, 1997 – "It is not possible to cover all of the material regardless of the teaching method. We often need to decide what to, and more importantly, what not to cover in a given course...Instead of asking how much material I can cover, we should ask the question: How much material can my students cover? ... It shifts the focus from a teacher-centered model to a student-centered one."

Beaudry, 2000 – Course credibility discussions are centering now on what students have learned, not on what a course covers. This means that content quantity is being replaced by the quality of student learning as a respected indicator of course credibility."


Some reasons that we have to decide how much content to include in a course is:

  1. "Content-heavy courses lacking conceptual organization may add little to students usable knowledge" (Beaudry, 2000).
  2. If the amount of content is too great, sudents may remember minute unimportant details instead of remembering the most important concepts in a course.
  3. According to Miller (1956), short-term memory is limited to holding 5-9 chunks of information. A chunk can refer to digits, words, chess positions, or people's faces.
  4. It's better for students to learn less, remember it, and be able to apply what they learned later.

Basic Information


Some appropriate questions to ask

  1. What is the most important content needed to be covered?
  2. How much material do I currently cover?
  3. How much material can the students learn?
  4. In what depth should I cover the content?
  5. How much time do I need to cover it?
  6. Can I integrate more collaborative learning and active learning to engage students into higher level thinking instead of trying to cover more material?
  7. "What do the students do and what are they able to do after the course that they did not know and were not able to do beforehand?"(Beaudry, 2000).
  8. Is there new content that should replace outdated or less useful content?

Compare the contrast the following aspects

  1. Cover vs. Learn - Do you want to cover more or do you want the student to learn more?
  2. Passive vs. Active - Do you want the students to passively accept what you covered in class or do you want them to be actively engaged in the learning process?
  3. Memory vs. Assimilate - Do you want the students to simply remember what you covered or do you want them the students to assimilate what they have learned?
  4. Teacher-Centered vs. Student-Centered - Should you decide how much content to cover based on what was "covered" in the past or do you want to consider how much the students can learn?


Beaudry, M. L. (2000). How much content? Are we asking the wrong question? The National Teaching & Learning Forum, 9(4), 1-4. Retrieved May 14, 2003, from

Miller, George (1956) The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information. The Psychological Review 63:81-97. Retrieved May 14, 2003, from

National Institute for Science Education (1997) I can't cover all the material.
Retrieved May 14, 2003, from:

Penn State World Campus (no date) Determining the course content
Retrieved May 14, 2003, from

Additional Links