The Learner-Centered Syllabus

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What is a Learner-Centered Syllabus? 

The learner-centered syllabus (LCS) serves as the “handshake” in the introduction between you and your students. Thus, how you “introduce” yourself sets a climate that can forge a positive learning experience for your students. Like a traditional syllabus, the LCS’s primary purpose is to act as a document that communicates course information, policies, and requirements to learners. Beyond this, the learner-centered syllabus provides the necessary components of the course through the context of student success using a warm, welcoming tone. Ask yourself: if you were enrolled in your course, what would you want to know about the class and the instructor? The LCS is a prime opportunity to bridge gaps for students who may not otherwise understand the nuances of navigating the terrain of your course. Essential characteristics of a learner-centered syllabus come with a specific description of yourself as the instructor, the course through a learner-centered lens, student and instructor expectations, and course goals. Other important aspects of the LCS include a comprehensive calendar of course activities and assignments, class themes, and helpful tips. View all components of the learner-centered syllabus on this page.

What is a master course syllabus? 

The syllabus you use with your learners is sometimes referred to as a "teaching syllabus," and a "master syllabus" is a document on file with the university for curricular and accreditation purposes that informs your learner-centered teaching syllabus. A master syllabus indicates course title, description, and learning objectives. These should not be changed in your teaching syllabus. A master syllabus will also provide suggested course resources, outlines, and assessment plans. If you are considering a departure in your teaching syllabus from these suggested elements in the master course syllabus, it is best practice to work with your department contacts because such changes can impact program assessment plans or consistency of course experience for learners. If you'd like to review requirements for, and examples of master syllabi at CMU, visit the CMU Master Course Syllabi site.

What if there is no Master Course Syllabus? 

This may mean the course is in development, by you or another educator. You may find benefit in some of our related web topics, such as instructional design, student learning objectivesassessment/evaluation methods, and grading methods to help craft the content therein. 

ApplyApply 

Consider practical tips for modernizing a syllabus and appealing to adult audiences, such as: using inclusive, respectful language, streamlining content for current reading habits, focusing on the schedule, designing a layout that is accessible and engaging, etc. Additionally, research has suggested that:   
  • Graphical syllabi can assist retention, particularly with at-risk, first-generation learners (Mocek, 2017). Of course, if you pursue a graphical syllabus, you'll want to be certain to safeguard for accessibility so that all learners can benefit from your syllabus. 
  • Bringing learners into syllabus construction/refinement can have significant impact in terms of establishing a participatory culture, clarifying course expectations, and providing learners with a useful reference that more effectively meets their needs (Jones, 2018). 

The first day of class is the best time to distribute the learner-centered syllabus and to begin building rapport with learners. Giving learners a chance to introduce themselves through first-day icebreakers or share a little about their interest, helps instructors to foster relationships and express investment in learners’ lives and expectations of the course. However, the extent of the learner-centered syllabus does not need to end on the first day of a course; the LCS can be a useful teaching tool throughout the semester. 

It can be difficult to remember the many characteristics that go into creating a learner-centered syllabus, but we have compiled resources to support your efforts including a Learner-Centered Syllabus Checklist that will help to identify areas of opportunity within your current syllabus.  Additionally, we have created a list of sample statements regarding classroom etiquette and university policies and a learner-centered syllabus that models many of the elements addressed in this guide.  

ParticipateParticipate 

  • To see what events we may be offering related to syllabus design, check out our CIS Events page
  • Schedule a time with CIS staff to discuss your framework for teaching and related methods. 

ReferRefer 

Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 

Bart, M. (2015). A learner-centered syllabus helps set the tone for learning. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-classroom-management/a-learner-centered-syllabus-helps-set-the-tone-for-learning/ 

Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT). (n.d.). Mindful and learner-centered syllabus checklist. Retrieved from http://www.celt.iastate.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/LearnerCenteredMindfulSyllabusChecklist.pdf 

Jones, N. N. (2018). Human centered syllabus design: Positioning our students as expert end-users. Computers and Composition. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2018.05.002

Mocek, E. A. (2017). The effects of syllabus design on information retention by at-risk first semester college students. Syllabus Journal, 6(2). Retrieved from http://www.syllabusjournal.org/index.php/syllabus/article/view/222

Palmer, M.S., Wheeler, L.B., & Annece, I. (2016). Does the document matter? The evolving role of syllabi in higher education. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 48, 36-46. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00091383.2016.1198186 

Richmond, A.S. (2016). Constructing a learner-centered syllabus: One professor’s journey. IDEA Paper #60. Retrieved from https://www.ideaedu.org/Portals/0/Uploads/Documents/IDEA%20Papers/IDEA%20Papers/PaperIDEA_60.pdf 

Richmond, A.S. Slattery, J.M., Mitchell, N., Morgan, R.K., & Becknell, J. (2016). Can a learner-centered syllabus change students’ perceptions of student-professor rapport and master teacher behaviors? Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 2(3), 159-168. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/features/stl-stl0000066.pdf 

Slattery, J. M., & Carlson, J. F. (2005). Preparing an effective syllabus: Current best practices. College Teaching, 53, 159–164. doi:10.3200/CTCH.53.4.159-164