Materials Development – What is it that makes learning materials better than good?

This subject is uppermost on my mind at the moment, as the final lesson of my materials development module will be this Friday. Next Friday, we will be doing “Dragon’s Den” presentations, where we have to speak persuasively for 12 minutes justifying and “selling” the materials we have been designing for the module assessment. Hopefully our materials will be principled, workable, suited to the chosen context and we will show evidence of the application of theory to practice – with a splash of creativity thrown in!

The materials I designed are aimed at upper intermediate students studying at private language schools in the U.K. It’s been an interesting and rewarding experience developing them from random sparks of ideas into a coherent 6-8 hour unit. I do like the idea of the module assessment being something which is not only practical and will be useful in the long run but also generates learning rather than simply testing it. The group has had 3hrs a week of input for the module this semester, in which we’ve systematically worked through different aspects of materials design from picking out theories of language, learning, acquisition and teaching,  principles in existing materials and identifying what theories and principles we believe in, to evaluating and adapting materials for a particular context, and looking at things like visual impact, clarity of instructions, how to integrate effective systems and skills development into materials, as well as issues such as how to develop intercultural competence. I expect I’ve probably left something out, but I’m sure you get the general idea.

Anyway, my question for anybody out there who happens to find this page is this:

What, in your opinion, separates the wheat from the chaff as far as materials are concerned?

What principles/theories etc influence your materials writing or teaching the most? 

And finally, How important do you think enjoyment is to language learning and why?

I shall post my presentation/powerpoint on here after I’ve delivered it, which will provide a good idea of my own views, but meanwhile what about all of yours? I’d be very interested to hear.

Feel free to answer as few or as many of the questions as you like – any and all responses are welcome!

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6 thoughts on “Materials Development – What is it that makes learning materials better than good?

  1. I think you have covered all the important elements. Enjoyment is really important.otherwise you may have short term benifits but the material is quickly forgotten.
    Materials that can be utilized eqally effectively in a number of ways are very attractive to me. Clarity of instructions (or mininmal instructions with task easily understandable) very important too.
    Good luck!
    Naomi

    • “Can be utilised equally effectively in a number of ways” — Definitely agree, flexibility is very important for avoiding the strait-jacket effect! 🙂
      Thanks for sharing your views – and for the good luck which I shall definitely not refuse… 😉
      Lizzie.

  2. I think it depends what you mean by enjoyment, doesn’t it? Materials have to be engaging, they have to draw the learner in and make them want to use the language..but that isn’t necessarily the same thing as having fun. It’s quite possible to have fun and yet learn nothing.

    • Absolutely, Rachael! I think you’ve hit the nail bang on the head – how enjoyment is defined is very important. The reason I asked that question is because I will be presenting at MATSDA’s conference in July, and the theme is “Enjoying to Learn: the Best Way to Acquire a Language?” – I’m planning to start by looking at definitions of enjoyment and then mention how children enjoy dark, scary, sinister fairy tales and adults enjoy films that make them cry etc and also planning to mention about having fun and learning nothing (how could I not, having seen Jim Scrivener’s talks at IATEFL the last two years?!). I left the question here quite open so that people could define it as they saw fit. Thanks very much for joining in with some interesting comments. 🙂

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