Creating an Inclusive and Learner-Centered Syllabus

Creating an Inclusive & Learner-Centered Syllabus

At its most basic level, the course syllabus is used to communicate information. Broadly this communication conveys what the course is about, why the course is taught, how it will be taught, and what will be required of students to successfully complete the course. The course syllabus also sets the tone for the class. Creating a learning-centered syllabus versus a traditional syllabus can help foster a more engaging and shared learning environment.

Goals of a Learning-Centered Syllabus

  • Define the instructor’s role and responsibility to students;
  • Provide a clear statement of intended course goals (learning outcomes);
  • Establish standards and procedures for evaluation;
  • Acquaint students with course logistics; and
  • Establish a pattern of communication between instructor and students.

ISU developed syllabus statements to communicate a consistent message to all students about strategic policies that impact their experience.

Set the tone for a conducive learning environment by adding these statements  along with the required and recommended ones located on this page.

Familiarize students with the syllabus content.

Online Learning: Self-paced training and resources

Iowa State University webinars

View the condensed workshop Building an inclusive and learner-centered syllabus video (14m 44s).

Ann Marie VanDerZanden, Associate Provost, describes some best practices for creating an effective course syllabus in this Syllabus Best Practices YouTube video (see below).


20-Minute Mentor Commons, a digital library of online seminars

Use the 20-Minute Mentor Commons for ISU page to register and log into Magna Commons. Then, access the CELT curated 20-Minute Mentor videos to guide the course delivery mode of Online Learning using the hyperlinked list below:

LinkedIn Learning

LinkedIn Learning video library of engaging, top-quality courses taught by recognized industry experts. Anyone with an ISU Net-ID has free and unlimited access to LinkedIn Learning. For technical assistance, please contact Learning and Development at

Access the curated list to guide Online Learning using the hyperlinked list below:

  • Accessible Syllabus website (Tulane University)
  • Cullen, R., & Harris, M. (2009). Assessing learner-centeredness through course syllabi. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 34(1), 115–125.
  • Cullen, R., Harris, M., & Hill, R. (2012). The learner-centered curriculum: Design and implementation. Jossey-Bass.
  • Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses (Rev. ed.). Jossey-Bass.
  • Gannon, C. (2018). How to create a syllabus: Advice guide. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from Accessed on May 22, 2019.
  • Harnish, R. J. & Bridges, K. R. (2011). Effect of syllabus tone: students’ perceptions of instructor and course. Social Psychology of Education, 14(3), 319– 330.
  • Harnish, R. J., McElwee, R. O., Slattery, J. M., Frantz, S., Haney, M. R., Shore, C. M., & Penley, J. (2011, January). Creating the foundation for a warm classroom climate: Best practices in syllabus tone. Observer, 24(1). Retrieved from
  • Nilson, L. B. (2016). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (4th ed.). Jossey-Bass.
  • Palmer, M. S., Bach, D. J., & Streifer, A. C. (2014). Measuring the promise: A learning-focused syllabus rubric. To improve the academy: A journal of educational development, 33(1), 14 -36. Retrieved from
  • Richlin L. (2006). Blueprint for Learning: Constructing College Courses to Facilitate, Assess, and Document Learning. Vol 1st ed. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
  • Richmond, A. S. (2016, September). Constructing a learner-centered syllabus: One professor’s journey. IDEA Paper #60. Retrieved from
  • Richmond, A. S., Boysen, G. A., & Gurung, R. A. R. (2016). An evidence-based guide to college and university teaching: Developing the model teacher. Retrieved from
  • Transparency in Learning and Teaching (TiLT) Higher Ed website (
  • Vai, M., & Sosulski, K. (2011). Essentials of online course design: A standards-based guide. Routledge.
  • Winkelmes, M.A., Boye, A., & Tapp, S. (2019). Transparent design in higher education teaching and leadership: A guide to implementing the transparency framework institution-wide to improve learning and retention. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.