Instructional content in higher education used to be a simple matter: the Instructor selected a textbook (or three), maybe put together a set of badly photocopied readings, and added his or her own course notes.

But as all-things-digital washes over higher education, the issue of instructional content has become increasingly complex. Options now include ebooks, OER, self-publishing, LMS-based content, digital textbook supplements, freemium textbooks, digital course packs, print-on-demand, library subscription services, custom-publishing, and the still complex nature of Internet copyright laws.

The choices we make for instructional content can have a significant impact on the cost and quality of learning, but also on the institution’s administrative costs and service quality. How quickly and at what price, for example, can we get instructional content into the hands of our students and at what costs to the institution?

Decisions about instructional content for courses have traditionally been handled by Instructors. But it’s not always feasible for the Instructor to know all of the possible options available. Nor do they often have the capacity to determine if there are benefits to coordinating their content needs with colleagues in other parts of the institution.

“Content Strategy”

It’s time for a more coordinated, institutional approach to managing instructional content. The field of “Content Strategy” – while currently focussed on marketing – offers a good starting point. Content Strategy, according to one its evangelists, Kristina Halvorson, is “the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.” The field tries to bring order to a under-appreciated, often uncoordinated set of practices that includes editorial, search-engine optimization, content management, metadata strategy, financial management, content distribution channels strategies, and more.

I believe the field of Content Strategy can be retrofit to instructional content and provide a framework that will lower costs, improve services and increase quality.

As a first step, I recommend taking an inventory of current practices and resources: how are we currently producing, acquiring, managing and distributing instructional content within our institution?

  • What units within your university deal with instructional content? (e.g. Libraries distance education, bookstores, individual instructors, academic departments, marketing.)
  • What software applications are currently being used to produce and manage content? (e.g. Content management systems, learning management systems, publisher websites, faculty blogs, wikis.)
  • From whom is the university sourcing content, and what are the processes used to source content? (e.g. Library subscriptions, textbook publishers, instructors, simulation companies.)
  • Who within the institution is producing content? (e.g. Instructors, academic departments, marketing.)
  • How do the various units within the institution communicate with each other about their content practices? Do they?

With a better grasp of the big picture, you’ll start to see opportunities to share resources, identify leading practices that should be emulated, and recognize potential risks. More to come.


For more information about the field of Content Strategy, check out the following sites:

The Discipline of Content Strategy by Kristina Halvorson

The Content Strategist

Books on Content Strategy and Content Management

Contact Keith Hampson > > Research and Consulting for Digital Higher Ed


  1. Very interesting (although the graphic is really hard to read–if you created it, maybe use a clearer font). It’s often tough for an organization like mine to juggle this kind of work, because it’s only one of the kinds of work we do (in addition to teaching, mentoring, serving on committees, attending conferences, for which we write papers or create presentations, publishing articles and books and attending multiple meetings). We have not been provided with a very large staff for this either–one Instructional Designer works with 10 of us. Dr. Conaway


  2. Thanks for the note, Dr. Conway.
    I don’t see this approach to content as something managed by academics. I imagine it will be most often led by administrators that have college-wide responsibilities. As well, I don’t think the value of creating an institution-wide content strategy would be as great for relatively small operations. When there are hundreds of online courses, for example, the benefits of coordinating content will be considerably greater than in smaller units, like your own.
    Re: graphic. No, it’s not my own. It’s taken from one of the resources listed at the bottom of the article. It may be that it doesn’t display “full screen” on your computer, as it does on my mine. I’ll try to improve it.
    Thanks again,


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