Build the Relevance of Your Course

When students ask “Why should I bother taking this course?” how do you respond? The literature advocates several methods for building the relevance of the course. One good approach is to help students identify the relevance of the course in their future academic life and/or professional careers.

Tips for faculty members:

  • Ask students at the:
    • Beginning of the course: why are you taking this course? How will it help with your personal and/or professional goals?
    • Mid/End of the course: How is what you are learning in the class relevant for your professional lives? How can this unit help you in your further academic studies?
  • Communicate how you think the course is relevant for students in their personal and professional lives through text or verbal interaction in the class (Durik & Harackiewicz, 2007).
  • Tailor course materials according to the students’ individual and collective needs, interests, prior knowledge, and skills. (Walkington, 2013).
  • Instruct students to change/develop their beliefs around subject and help students scaffold the relevance of the activities to their personal and/or professional life and further studies (Canning & Harackiewicz, 2015).
  • Engage students in personal and group reflection activities so they can see how the course adds value to their academic and professional lives (Hulleman & Harackiewicz, 2009; Gaspard et al., 2015).
  • Make connections between course assignments and course competencies explicit. Read Martini’s story who changed her assignment instructions over time to communicate the relevance of assignments to the students.


  • Durik, A. M., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2007). Different strokes for different folks: How individual interest moderates the effects of situational factors on task interest. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(3), 597.
  • Canning, E. A., & Harackiewicz, J. M.(2015). Teach it, don't preach it: The differential effects of directly communicated and self-generated utility-value information. Motivation Science, 1, 47–71.
  • Gaspard, H., Dicke, A. L., Flunger, B., Brisson, B. M., Häfner, I., Nagengast, B., & Trautwein, U. (2015). Fostering adolescents’ value beliefs for mathematics with a relevance intervention in the classroom. Developmental psychology, 51(9), 1226.
  • Hulleman, C. S., & Harackiewicz, J. M.(2009). Promoting interest and performance in high school science classes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99, 597–610.Science, 326, 1410–1412.
  • Walkington, C. A. (2013). Using adaptive learning technologies to personalize instruction to student interests: The impact of relevant contexts on performance and learning outcomes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105(4), 932.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium hosted at Western Kentucky University.

Zeenar Salim
Research in Designing Learning Resources
Syracuse University