Guide to Syllabus Design


Syllabi typically serve multiple functions in a course, such as describing what content will be covered, outlining when and where the group will meet, and communicating expectations regarding the students’ attendance and participation.  SInce students usually receive the syllabus on or before the first day of class, it can also inform students’ first impression of what they can expect from the course and instructor. 

Research on syllabus design suggests that:

    • A syllabus written in a welcoming tone can play an important role in creating an inclusive learning environment. 
    • Being explicit about what students most need to know about the class will help all of your students, and especially the least privileged students, to succeed.
    • A syllabus can impact student motivation, student achievement, perceptions of course difficulty, and perceptions of the instructor 

A syllabus that is learner-centered can help to set a welcoming and inclusive tone for the semester to come.  A learner-centered syllabus invites students to see themselves as active members of a classroom community, with agency over the skills, attitudes, and behaviors that shape their learning experience. A learner-centered syllabus articulates a clear roadmap (and rationale) for how students will meaningfully engage with your course material.


Updated November 2021