The Learner-Centered Syllabus

A photograph of a stack of printer paper.

You may be teaching a new course for the first time or revamping an old course. Either way, the syllabus is your first source of information and often the first impression a student gathers about a course and even the instructor teaching it. A syllabus that is designed to promote student learning has key components that will tell you about the course. In this article, we list the components of a learner-centered syllabus according to Grunert-O’Brien, Millis, & Cohen (2008).

Instructor information

Beyond office hours and office location, this section should include the instructor’s educational background, work experience, other interests such as music or art or sports, passion, teaching philosophy, research, etc. Including this information is a way to humanize the instructor to students and build student-instructor interaction and connection.

Purpose of the course

Explains why the course is part of curriculum and how it fits with other courses, what level student the course is designed for, how the course addresses the university mission, and what the course will prepare students to do.

Course description

Captures interests of students, provides overview of course such as the content, value to students, philosophy and assumptions, relevance, reflection of values of instructor/department/university, and process of course through the semester.

Course objectives, outcomes, and/or goals

Indicates what students will take away from the course, how they will demonstrate their learning, and what skills they will attain.

To learn more about constructing student learning outcomes, click here.

Course content and access to content

Includes readings, media, etc. and how students can access this information, what is required and what is optional, what must be purchased, library resources, etc. Also includes why the selected content is important to the course, discipline, and students.


Provides links to and information on exhibits, observations, libraries, technology, field experts, websites, writing centers, learning center, tutors, etc. Includes information about clickers or other polling devices if they are required.

Course calendar

Includes information about assignments and due dates, progression of content and assignments, in class learning activities, etc.

Course requirements

Detailed descriptions of each assignment including outcomes, learning activities, deliverables, reference materials, and resources. Includes working in groups, participation requirements, etc.

Policies and expectations

Includes departmental, and university mandated policies, instructor expectations, attendance, make-up work, guidelines of classroom behavior and consequences for not following them, class discussion guidelines and expectations, ground rules (such as an electronics policy), civility and conduct, academic integrity, disability, safety (if necessary), etc.

For information about UNT’s required syllabus content and policies, including suggested standard language, click here.

Evaluation and grading

Tells students how work will be assessed and graded, including self-assessment, peer-assessment, and faculty evaluation. Includes points for assignments and tests and descriptions of exams (type, content covered, skills, etc.).


How to study for course, learning contracts, tips for succeeding in discipline, tips for succeeding in online learning, etc.

Including all of this information on the syllabus in addition to required syllabus content can certainly lengthen an already long syllabus. If this is a concern for you, we recommend designing a Start Here section for your course where you can include all of this important information. Start Here sections are crucial to online courses, but also highly beneficial to any course regardless of modality.


Center for Learning Enhancement, Assessment and Redesign. (2016). Teaching Resources for Engaged Educators [online training modules]. Denton, TX: University of North Texas.

Grunert-O’Brien, J., Millis, B.J., & Cohen, M.W. (2008). The Course Syllabus: A Learning-Centered Approach (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Wiley and Sons.