Syllabus Design

A learning-centered syllabus focuses on the needs of the students and their learning process. This post provides resources for creating the best syllabus for your course.

Your syllabus is the first glimpse your students have of your course. (Actually, it’s the second, but the course descriptions in the catalog certainly can’t do justice to your dynamic presentation and intriguing subject matter.)

A syllabus is a basic contract between the instructor and students, laying out the responsibilities and expectations on both sides. It’s also a road map that shows the general contours of the course, important milestones, and the landmarks that will let students know they’re on the right road. And, last but not least, it’s a marketing opportunity to show the students just how great the course will be.

A good syllabus gives the student a general idea of how the course will go and how much work it will take. But why stop at merely good?

You, your course, and your students deserve the very best: a learning-centered syllabus.

A learning-centered syllabus focuses on the needs of the students and their learning process, including specific information that facilitates their academic success.

How do you design a learning-centered syllabus? This helpful list shows you exactly what to include:

Now that you know what to include, the Syllabus function in BYU Learning Suite walks you through each step:

More Resources for Learning-centered Syllabus Design

For more helpful tips and information about creating a learning-centered syllabus, check out these resources:


Elements of a Learning-centered Syllabus

So, what goes into a learning-centered syllabus? How do you design one? We’re glad you asked!

As you begin to design your syllabus, and more specifically your learning outcomes, activities, and assessments, here are three questions to keep in mind:

  • Is it linked to the life of the learner?
  • Is it challenging yet attainable?
  • Does it inspire both the learner and the teacher?

With those thoughts in mind, here are the basic components of a learning-centered syllabus:

  • Basic information. The course name and number, meeting times and location, credit hours, and semester.
  • Instructor information. Office location and hours, appointment scheduling, phone numbers, contact information for teaching or lab assistants.
  • Prerequisites. Courses, knowledge, or skills students should already have.
  • Required texts and materials. List of all required textbooks, technology, and other materials (packets, programs, Internet access, and so on) with information about editions, volumes, and other details; for difficult-to-find materials, hints on locating copies.
  • Course description. Summary of what the course covers, with more details than the short catalog descriptions, to give the students a more complete picture of what you will (and will not) include.
  • Course purpose. Explanation of why students should take this course, how it is relevant to them, how it will help them now and in the future.
  • Course learning outcomes. List of three to five learning outcomes for the course—this is what you want the students to really “get” from their experience, the ideas/experiences they’ll remember 5 years from now. Remember, these should be linked to students’ lives, challenging yet attainable, and inspiring.
  • Student learning goals. A space for students to record their own goals and hopes for the course. Ask students to fill in these goals and refer to them often.
  • Classroom procedures. Summary of the basic routines and learning activities for the course, how you’ll assess students’ knowledge and skills, what they can expect from you and what you expect from them.
  • Participation. Explanation of how you expect students to participate in your class, how they should prepare, and how you will assess their participation.
  • Recommended study habits and other tips. Helpful tips and hints for students about how to get the most out of your course, how to study for the assignments and exams, and other suggestions that will help them excel in your class.
  • Tips on using the syllabus. Explanation of how students can use the syllabus to best advantage.
  • Grading procedures. A breakdown of each assignment and exam, what it’s worth, how you weight scores, and percentages for each grade level. As with learning outcomes, assessments should be linked to students’ lives, challenging yet attainable, and inspiring.
  • Assignment descriptions. Descriptions and directions for each type of assignment, quiz, exam, and so on, or directions to more detailed directions; this is the information students need to understand the course assessments. Again, assignments should be linked to students’ lives, challenging yet attainable, and inspiring.
  • Course schedule. Calendar of class days, dates, topic titles, learning outcomes, assignments, exams, and so on, with an explanation of how you’ll handle scheduling changes if necessary.
  • Course policies. Policy statements and standards you expect the students (and yourself) to meet. These may include standard statements from the University, college, or department.


Creating a Learning-centered Syllabus with BYU Learning Suite

To get started quickly and painlessly, try out the Syllabus feauture in BYU Learning Suite, a step-by-step guide to creating a great syllabus. It will walk you through creating each element with helpful tips, and when you’re done, you’ll have a basic syllabus in a well-formatted online document!

It’s helpful if you gather the information for the elements of your learning-centered syllabus before you start, but you can also begin the process and save your work as a template to customize later on your own.

Syllabus in BYU Learning Suite

Quick hint: Be sure to carefully proofread your syllabus before you publish it for your students!


Here’s an example of a real course syllabus that an instructor created with the Syllabus Designer: IPT682 Syllabus.pdf

Resources for Designing a Learning-centered Syllabus

How to Design a Syllabus

Designing a Course Syllabus (PDF) Strategies and examples for constructing an effective syllabus.

Top Ten Suggestions for Constructing the Syllabus  The Center for Teaching and Faculty Development. San Francisco State University.

Defining a Learning-Centered Syllabus

Learning-Centered Syllabi Workshop Lee Haugen, April 28 & 29, 1998, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, Iowa State University. Presentation of specific ideas to help you construct a learning-centered syllabus.

Designing a Learning-Centered Syllabus Center for Teaching Effectiveness at the University of Delaware. Information, resources, and links for creating a learning-centered syllabus.

Learning-Centered Syllabi Workshop Iowa State University, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching.

Building Your Syllabus

Books on Syllabus Design

Grunert, J. (2000). The course syllabus: A learning-centered approach. Bolton, MA:Anchor Publishing.

Huba, M. E. & Freed, J. (2000). Learner-centered assessment on college campuses:Shifting the focus from teaching to learning. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

McCombs, B. L., & Whisler, J. S. (1997). The learner-centered classroom and school: Strategies for increasing student motivation and achievement. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

O’Banion, T. (1997). A learning college for the 21st Century. Phoenix: ACE/Oryx Press.Weimer, M. G. (2002). Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Sample Assessment Information to include in Your Syllabus

Assessment will be an important part of this course. There will be activities designed to assess your knowledge, abilities, and achievement of course objectives. There will be different types of assessment activities such as writing papers, working in teams, creating products, and taking quizzes and exams. Not all assessments will be used for grading purposes. Some assessments will be used formatively, as a means for you to receive feedback to improve. Take advantage of this opportunity for formative assessment. It is an opportunity for you to learn more about your personal strengths and weaknesses without the pressure of grades. An example of formative assessment is the self-assessment you will complete about your personal teaching skills. Exams will be one part of the overall assessment plan for this course. Please take your responsibility to prepare for exams seriously. From my observations of students in this course, I have noticed that students who possess the following characteristics enjoyed the course, learned a lot, and performed well.

Characteristics of successful students in this course:

  • Prepared for class (read the material before class, pondered and thought about the material, and had questions they wanted to ask)
  • Enjoyed learning from other students
  • Took responsibility for their own learning
  • Wanted to be great learners and teachers
  • Sought for ideas and examples of how to use and apply Educational Psychology
  • Thought critically about principles of Educational Psychology

The exams for this course will assess your ability to recall some of the basic terms, concepts, and principles related to this course. However, the things you will need to remember and memorize will not be trivial. They will be related to the basic foundation knowledge you need in order to think critically about teaching. Thus, in addition to remembering basic terms and concepts, you will need to recognize examples of concepts and understand how to apply ideas to example situations. You will need to think critically about the subject. Exams will provide an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to do this.

Although the exams are important, I recognize that they are only one measure in one instance in time. Therefore, they will not reflect your total ability but merely estimate portions of it. This is why you should prepare to do your best. Although they are an imperfect measure, they do provide an indication of your progress or the lack thereof. Do your best, but remember that grades are meant to measure your academic performance in and out of the classroom relative to this course. They do not assess your overall potential as a person nor do they assess your overall intelligence or worth.

Policy Statements to Include in Your Syllabus

These are standard policy statements that you can include in your syllabus. Your department may have additional items that you should use.

Academic Honesty

The first injunction of the BYU Honor Code is the call to be honest. Students come to the university not only to improve their minds, gain knowledge, and develop skills that will assist them in their life’s work, but also to build character. President David O. McKay taught that “character is the highest aim of education” (The Aims of a BYU Education, p. 6). It is the purpose of the BYU Academic Honesty Policy to assist in fulfilling that aim. BYU students should seek to be totally honest in their dealings with others. They should complete their own work and be evaluated based upon that work. They should avoid academic dishonesty and misconduct in all its forms, including but not limited to plagiarism, fabrication or falsification, cheating, and other academic misconduct.

Honor Code

In keeping with the principles of the BYU Honor Code, students are expected to be honest in all of their academic work. Academic honesty means, most fundamentally, that any work you present as your own must in fact be your own work and not that of another. Violations of this principle may result in a failing grade in the course and additional disciplinary action by the university. Students are also expected to adhere to the Dress and Grooming Standards. Adherence demonstrates respect for yourself and others and ensures an effective learning and working environment. It is the university’s expectation, and my own expectation in class, that each student will abide by all Honor Code standards. Please call the Honor Code Office at 422-2847 if you have questions about those standards.

Preventing Sexual Harassment

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination against any participant in an educational program or activity that receives federal funds. The act is intended to eliminate sex discrimination in education. Title IX covers discrimination in programs, admissions, activities, and student-to-student sexual harassment. BYU’s policy against sexual harassment extends not only to employees of the university, but to students as well. If you encounter unlawful sexual harassment or gender-based discrimination, please talk to your professor; contact the Equal Employment Office at 422-5895 or 367-5689 (24-hours); or contact the Honor Code Office at 422-2847.

Students with Disabilities

Brigham Young University is committed to providing a working and learning atmosphere that reasonably accommodates qualified persons with disabilities. If you have any disability which may impair your ability to complete this course successfully, please contact the Services for Students with Disabilities Office (422-2767). Reasonable academic accommodations are reviewed for all students who have qualified, documented disabilities. Services are coordinated with the student and instructor by the SSD Office. If you need assistance or if you feel you have been unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of disability, you may seek resolution through established grievance policy and procedures by contacting the Equal Employment Office at 422-5895, D-285 ASB.

Use of Technology in the Classroom (Marriott School)

Technology is an essential part of today’s learning environment, which is why the Marriott School requires every student to own a laptop. However, when used inappropriately, technology can hinder learning. Most Marriott School students have sat next to others who use their laptops or PDA’s in class to check e-mail, talk to friends, instant message, search the Internet, or play games. Unfortunately, every person sitting around such students is distracted by this behavior. As a result of such distraction and its subsequent negative effects on the learning environment, the Marriott School will implement the following policy effective Fall Semester, 2006: Using laptops or PDA’s in class to legitimately take notes or work on class projects is allowed, but all other use of laptops or PDA’s in class is prohibited. Please respect your fellow students and professors and abide by this Marriott School policy.

Using Your Learning-centered Syllabus

Now that you’ve created a great, learning-centered syllabus, how do you get the students to use it? Here are some suggestions:

  • Use it yourself. Refer to the syllabus often, and remind students to check it for important dates and to check their own progress on their learning goals.
  • Warn students that they’re responsible to understand the information in the syllabus, and include the most frequently asked questions you’ve already covered in the syllabus on the first quiz you give in class.
For more information please contact Taylor Halverson, Teaching and Learning Consultant