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Teaching Tips

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.

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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:

  • 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. Be sure to add the University's required policy statements, which can be found here.

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! View the following links for additional information:

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.

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

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.

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

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.