Learner-Centered Syllabi

Do you feel like the purpose of your course is lost in a growing list of policies and minor details? Wouldn't you like a syllabus that reflects your own student-centered approach -- and one that your students actually use? If so, a learner-centered syllabus might be the approach for you! 

While a syllabus has many purposes, all syllabi fall on a continuum from content-centered to learner-centered. A learner-centered syllabus emphasizes how to learn by:

  • offering practical strategies and advice
  • providing meaningful rationales
  • identifying clear expectations
  • using an engaging, supportive tone 
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Traditional syllabi focus on content and authority. They tend to state what the “course will do” and what “students will not do,” emphasizing important points with the textual equivalent of a raised voice: all-caps, italics, bolding, underling, and sometimes combinations of all four.

In comparison, learning-focused syllabi feature engaging course descriptions, multifaceted learning objectives, and clear information about assignments and activities. They also provide learners with detailed course schedules, a focus on student success and a motivating tone.

The research of Palmer, Wheeler and Anneece, paraphrased above, demonstrates that when students read a learning-focused syllabus, "they have significantly more positive perceptions" of the syllabus, the course and the instructor (36). Indeed, these kinds of syllabi "can positively affect student motivation before students even enter the classroom," thus priming their experience for a more meaningful and lasting experience (36).


Further Resources

Fulmer, Sara. "Weekly Digest #64: Preparing a Learning-Focus Syllabus."  The Learning Scientists. learningscientists.org. < http://www.learningscientists.org/blog/2017/6/18/weekly-digest-64 >

Palmer, Michael S., Lindsay B. Wheeler & Itiya Aneece. "Does the Document Matter? The Evolving Role of Syllabi in Higher Education." Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 48:4, 36-47. < https://www.csun.edu/sites/default/files/Syllabus%20Perceptions%20-%20Palmer%20%28FINAL%29.pdf >

Miller, Rebecca. "Dee Fink's Taxonomy of Significant Learning." Champlain College Center for Learning & Teaching. cl.champlain.edu. April 4, 2018. < https://clt.champlain.edu/2018/04/04/dee-finks-taxonomy-of-significant-learning/ >

"Fink's Taxonomy Verbs." Peak Performance Center. < http://thepeakperformancecenter.com/educational-learning/thinking/blooms-taxonomy/verbs-learning-objectives/finks-taxonomy-verbs/ >

"Taxonomy of Significant Learning." Peak Performance Center. < http://thepeakperformancecenter.com/educational-learning/thinking/blooms-taxonomy/taxonomy-of-significant-learning/ >

"Verifiable Verbs." Kennesaw State University College of Humanities and Social Sciences Office of Distance Education. < http://distanceed.hss.kennesaw.edu/elearning/tutorials/VerifiableVerbs.pdf >

Fink, L. Dee. "A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning." < https://www.deefinkandassociates.com/GuidetoCourseDesignAug05.pdf >

Fink, L. Dee. "Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses." Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA. 2003. < https://www.unl.edu/philosophy/%5BL._Dee_Fink%5D_Creating_Significant_Learning_Experi(BookZZ.org).pdf >