SIP 2.15 Learner-Centered Syllabus

Professor pointing to a syllabusThirsty for Strong Instructional Practice?

Typical syllabus content generally involves basic class information such as the name of the class, contact information for the professor, and the text and assignments. Unfortunately, syllabi do not typically guide learning or tell students what they need to know in order to derive maximum benefit from the class. In short, most syllabi are not learner-centered. Research done by universities indicates that a learner-centered syllabus can serve to facilitate learning, communication, and provide a positive and exciting first impression. ( So, as you wrap up the fall semester and start thinking about next spring’s classes, how can you go about making your syllabus more learner-centered?

Take a SIP of this: Learner-Centered Syllabus

Prime Students for Success: Let students know how to find help outside of class hours. Also consider including a letter to the students that explains how to use the syllabus and how the various parts relate to one another, including how this will support their learning over the course of the semester. Some students might miss the first day of class and the introduction to the course (and your oral explanation of the syllabus); others may not have realized the importance of specific items you brought up in class. The letter helps keep those students on track, and supports students who return to your syllabus for guidance. (

Provide Students with Goals and Criteria Necessary to be Successful in Class: Think about the goals specific to your course which you can include in a “Course Goals” section. What should students be capable of when they complete a specific unit? Course goals (an extension of learning outcomes) help you set the tone and expectations for the semester.
While “Grading Criteria” appears on most syllabi, the learner-centered syllabus frames evaluation criteria in terms of skills the student uses to produce an assignment, and to what degree those skills are used. Consider including a grading rubric so students see how they will be evaluated. See this site for how to create a grading rubric:
student-learning/designing-rubrics .

Choose and Frame Course Content: As you assess material you’ve already used and incorporate new material for the syllabus, sort it into three groups: one set of material will be studied by all of the students, another set helps students researching specific topics for projects, and a third set might be geared toward advanced students who are contemplating graduate school. You may choose to group the latter two sets for projects and advanced students in a “resources section” or keep them in the body of the syllabus.

Use the syllabus to show how and why topics are grouped together, and provide contrasting viewpoints, if possible. You can do this by grouping texts (textbooks, articles, primary sources, etc.) in a way that encourages students to see how one thinker might agree with or challenge another. Match topics with appropriate assignments. Develop assignments with your course goals and grading criteria in mind; all three of these sections—individual assignments, class activities, and course goals and grading criteria—should support one another.

Prepare Students for Class and Exams: The learner-centered syllabus is a tool for teaching students how to learn. Consider including questions to guide their interaction with the text, or asking students to bring questions from their assigned reading to class. These expectations can be outlined in a “Learning Contract”: a section in the syllabus where expectations and rules of conduct are outlined. You can also discuss these expectations on the first day of class and agree on them together. The syllabus can also help students prepare for exams. Your syllabus can be one of the most important tools in your course, minimizing confusion, and preparing students for success.

Still thirsty? Take another SIP of Leaner-Centered Syllabus (This link is AWESOME. Definitely worth reviewing for the examples and content.)

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