A Learner-Centered Syllabus

Decorative: "Syllabus" written on a scroll


"A Learner-Centered Syllabus Helps Set the Tone for Learning" (online article) suggests instructors consider the below features when they are constructing a syllabus.

  • "When it comes to a learner-centered syllabus vs. a traditional syllabus, it’s not really a difference so much in content as it is in tone."
  • Shift "‘What are we going to cover?’ to ‘How can the course promote learning and intellectual development in students?’"
  • "[T]he language used to convey the policies, procedures, and content is different in order to foster a more engaging and shared learning environment."

1. "A rationale for course objectives and assignments"

"[S]et the stage and the context for the course and where it sits within the discipline."

  • "[B]e intentional about what is and isn’t included in the course, and then share that with students."
  • "Why are these assignments a part of the course?"
  • "Why are we studying this particular topic?"

2. "Shared decision making"

  • "[A]llo[w] students to have some say in course policies and procedures."
  • "[A]llo[w] some flexibility in decision making for assignment weights and options."
  • "[J]uniors and seniors can often thrive when given some choice in how they will demonstrate their learning."

3. "Warnings of potential pitfalls"

  • Highlight "components of a course that students find more difficult than others."
  • "Giv[e] students a heads-up of what to look out for or behaviors that could impede success."
  • This suggests "the teacher really cares about them, not just what’s going to be covered and what’s expected of them, but that you’re in this together."

4. "An opportunity for students to set teacher expectations"

  • On the first day of class, as [you] g[o] over the syllabus and outlines [your] expectations for students, ... as[k] what they expect of [you]."
  • Have "[t]he students break into groups to discuss past learning experiences and offer up one or two policies that they think will help them learn."
  • "Throughout the semester, ... revisi[t] the students’ recommendations."
  • "[T]alk about what we are learning, where we are in the course, what our expectations were for the class, and how are we progressing."

5. "Recommendations for staying on track"

  • "[P]rovide guidance on how to tackle specific projects—from how much time something will take to strategies for gathering the necessary resources."
  • Provide "students ... help in evaluating and monitoring their progress throughout the course."
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