Skip to main content

Designing your syllabus for student success

Student writes on Boise State brand notebook
Branded Stock Image Bookstore Products, Photo by Rogue Huitron

The syllabus is often your first point of communication with your students, but have you ever analyzed your syllabus to know if it contributes to your students’ success in your course? Is it learner-focused, or merely a contract between you and your students?  How can you enhance student success by making your syllabus more learner- focused?

What does the syllabus mean for the students and the instructor? Is it merely a contract? For all practical purposes, it often ends up inadvertently, being a contract between the students and the instructor. However, it is also a plan/tentative itinerary for the course learning journey, a promise of what you (as the instructor) will do or not do for the students, and a manifesto or declaration of the values that support the plan and the promise – the why that undergirds the what. Ideally, a syllabus is meant to serve student success more than anything else.

How can we make our syllabi more learner-centered rather than content-centered so that it serves the learner more effectively? One way to do it is to focus on ways to advocate for the well being of the student as a whole person. To make the language of the syllabus more warm and human focused. Here is a link to a Sample Syllabus which provides examples of a learner-centered syllabus and a content-focused syllabus. Compare the two. Which one is more student success oriented?

I would like to share with you some resources which may help you design a more learner-centered syllabus:

Making your syllabi more learner and student success focused may take time and will be incremental. I urge you to consider ways in which you can make a small change in your current syllabus language. What is one small change you can make today? What are your questions? Bring them to the CTL, we would love to hear from you. Feel free to request a consultation with an educational developer at:


A Syllabus Is Not a Contract

The Course Syllabus: Legal Contract or Operator’s Manual?

The Syllabus as a Contract

Written by:

Devshikha Bose