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Designing a Learning-Centered Syllabus

Designing a learning-centered syllabus (pdf)

Learning-centered syllabus production checklist (.doc)

Examples of sections of learning-centered syllabi (doc)

Course syllabi: Communication of UD learning resources to students (pdf)

The functions of the course syllabus (pdf)

The promising syllabus: Putting student learning at the center (pdf)

Designing learning objectives based on Bloom's taxonomy revised (2000) (pdf)

Graphic display of student learning objectives, The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 19, 2010.
Graphic displays of student-learning goals in a particular course can help students understand the rationale behind assignments, and graphics can help faculty members clarify and modify course design.

Suggested syllabi statements that address issues of academic integrity, University of Delaware, Office of Student Conduct.

Sample online syllabi (problem-based learning) , University of Delaware, Institute for Transforming Undergraduate Education. 

"How to integrate students' learning objectives into the syllabus design" describes how a faculty member has incorporated syllabus discussion into his class.


Highlights from:
Grunert, Judith (1997) The Course Syllabus: A Learning-Centered Approach.
Bolton, Massachusetts: Anker Publishing Company, Inc., available in the CTAL Library, 212 Gore Hall.

Your syllabus can be an important point of interaction between you and your students, both in and out of class. The traditional syllabus is primarily a source of information for your students. While including basic information, the learning-centered syllabus can be an important learning tool that will reinforce the intentions, roles, attitudes, and strategies that you will use to promote active, purposeful, effective learning.

Suggested Steps for Planning Your Syllabus:

  • Develop a well-grounded rationale for your course
  • Decide what you want students to be able to do as a result of taking your course, and how their work will be appropriately assessed
  • Define and delimit course content
  • Structure your students’ active involvement in learning
  • Identify and develop resources
  • Compose your syllabus with a focus on student learning

Suggested Principles for Designing a Course that Fosters Critical Thinking* :

  • Critical thinking is a learnable skill; the instructor and peers are resources in developing critical thinking skills.
  • Problems, questions, or issues are the point of entry into the subject and a source of motivation for sustained inquiry.
  • Successful courses balance the challenge to think critically with support tailored to students'’developmental needs.
  • Courses are assignment centered rather than text and lecture centered. Goals, methods and evaluation emphasize using content rather than simply acquiring it.
  • Students are required to formulate their ideas in writing or other appropriate means.
  • Students collaborate to learn and to stretch their thinking, for example, in pair problem solving and small group work.
  • Courses that teach problem-solving skills nurture students’ metacognitive abilities.
  • The developmental needs of students are acknowledged and used as information in the design of the course. Teachers in these courses make standards explicit and then help students learn how to achieve them.

Syllabus Functions:

  • Establishes an early point of contact and connection between student and instructor
  • Helps set the tone for your course
  • Describes your beliefs about educational purposes
  • Acquaints students with the logistics of the course
  • Contains collected handouts
  • Defines student responsibilities for successful course work
  • Describes active learning
  • Helps students to assess their readiness for your course
  • Sets the course in a broader context for learning
  • Provides a conceptual framework
  • Describes available learning resources
  • Communicates the role of technology in the course
  • Can expand to provide difficult-to-obtain reading materials
  • Can improve the effectiveness of student note-taking
  • Can include material that supports learning outside the classroom
  • Can serve as a learning contract


*Cited in Kurfiss, J. G. (1988) Critical thinking: Theory, research, practice and possibilities. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 2. Washington, DC: Association for the Study of Higher Education.



Integrating Students' Learning Objectives into Syllabus Design
by William H. Johnson Jr., College of Health and Nursing Sciences

I teach HPER 167 (New Student Connections) and HPER 235 (Professional Transitions) which are small classes (between 15 and 25 students) that incorporate active learning strategies into teaching. One technique that I find valuable is to distribute the syllabus during the second class period. The first class period is used as an identification period, that is, students (and myself) are asked to present a little background information about themselves. Questions can be as routine as identifying name, hometown, and birthdate, to more in-depth questions in attempts to get the students to think about themselves by sharing their favorite music, hobbies and activities, favorite TV shows and movies. I found that this ice-breaker activity allows students to learn more about themselves, about others in the class, and promotes an open exchange of information. I then take the next few minutes to describe the course, general objectives I'd like the students to achieve, and any basic information they may need for the next class meeting.

During the second half of our first class meeting, the students work on the following assignment:  Name at least three topics--related to the course description and objectives--that you would like to see addressed in this class, then explain why these topics are important to you in pursuing your future goals.  By having the students work on this assignment, I can get a sense of the depth of their thinking as well as topics that they perceive are important to them (in addition to the topics I have already planned), thus providing them with the opportunity to contribute to the development and content of the course.

I tried this approach in the Fall semester with freshmen students enrolled in the HPER 167 course and the vast majority of the students felt satisfied or extremely satisfied with the work required of them in class. I will be implementing the same process in the HPER 235 course which mostly consists of junior and senior students.